Types of Plastic
There are seven types of plastic each with a code number; 1 - PET or PETE - Polyethylene Terephthalate, 2 - HDPE - High density Polyethylene, 3 - PVC - Polyvinyl Chloride, 4 - LDPE Low-density Polyethylene, 5 - PP - Polypropylene, 6 - PS - Polystyrene and 7 - Other Types.
PET(E) - This is the easiest plastic to recycle. Add to it that these materials are relatively cheap and you have the perfect container for soda bottles, water bottles, clamshell packaging, potato chip bags, produce bags and several other grocery-type packaging. Actual breakdown time for this type of plastic under perfect conditions can range from 5 to 10 years.
HDPE - This is probably the most recognized recyclable plastic and is used to make detergent bottles, bleach bottles, milk cartons, shampoo and conditioner bottles, motor oil and many other non-food items. These plastics will degrade in just under 100 years depending on the thickness of the plastic used.
PVC - PVC can be found in a number of items from pipes to children’s toys. PVC does not readily degrade and when it does it gives off a number of toxic materials. This is the single worst plastic according to several health organizations. Greenpeace has been lobbying to stop the use of PVC because of the dioxin produced during its manufacture.
LDPE Low - This is what our current plastic grocery bags are made of. If exposed to ultra violet light, these bags have been estimated to break down in as little as 500 years with a conservative average time of 1000 years. If there is no exposure to a light source, say at the bottom of a landfill, the plastic may remain intact indefinitely.
PP - This material is generally found in more permanent capacities such as rope, clothing and performed shower kits. It is highly resistant to photo degradation and will not decay for millennia.
PS - This is the plastic in Styrofoam packaging peanuts, cups, coolers and many other lightweight applications. This type of plastic will break down in under 50 years. The surface area exposed to sunlight will determine the exact rate as the more surface area will mean more photons reaching the plastic and a quicker photo degradation process.
Other Types - This includes anything not in codes one through six. Most plastics in this section do not breakdown and are considered permanently, chemically bonded.