Six Types of Plastic Used for Packaging

by Cassie Damewood; Updated September 26, 2017
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In the interest of environmental protection, plastic packaging is labeled with what are commonly referred to as resin codes. These codes were developed by the Plastics Industry Trade Association (SPI) in 1988 to help recyclers properly sort and direct the plastic based on the degree it can be recycled.

PETE – Polyethylene Terephthalate

PETE is a durable, transparent plastic commonly used to make beverage and food product bottles and jars as well as microwaveable food trays and ovenproof plastic wrap. When recycled, it becomes part of new plastic containers, carpet yarns, polyester textiles, strapping materials and molds used in engineering.

HDPE – High density Polyethylene

This type of plastic is most prevalent in packaging goods that need protection from light and a stiff container. It can be either translucent, such as milk jugs, or opaque, such as the packaging for household detergents or bleaches. HDPE is also used in plastic bags for carrying food and retail items, reusable shipping containers and wire and cable sheathing. In its recycled state, HDPE is a component for new containers, plastic lumber and flower pots.

PVC – Polyvinyl Chloride

Although PVC is usually associated with rigid goods such as piping, framing and fencing materials along with blister or clamshell packaging, it is typically used, in its flexible state, for heavy duty packaging bags and films, blood bags and medical tubing. When flexible PVC is recycled, it usually is turned into semi-flexible building materials, flooring, garden hoses and floor tiles and mats.

LDPE Low-density Polyethylene

This flimsy thin plastic is used most often to protect dry cleaning and as bags for bread, produce and newspapers. It also coats food cartons and disposable plates and cups. Recycled LDPE is used in the production of heavy-duty garbage bags, paneling, lawn furniture, trash cans and floor tile.

PP – Polypropylene

Rigid packaging that must endure high heat during production processes is often made from polypropylene. This includes bottles and containers for medicines, foods and automotive products. When recycled, polypropylene is used to make automobile products like signal light covers, ice scrapers and oil funnels as well as garden tools and storage bins.

PS – Polystyrene

Commonly known by the brand name Styrofoam, polystyrene can be stiff or foamed into small pieces used in packaging materials. Stiff polystyrene is used to make disposable tableware, lightweight coolers, coat hangers and insulation for buildings. Some recycled polystyrene ends up in more food service containers and some is used to make light and electrical outlet wall plates, rulers, casings for cameras and plastic moldings used in construction.

About the Author

Cassie Damewood has been a writer and editor since 1985. She writes about food and cooking for various websites, including My Great Recipes, and serves as the copy editor for "Food Loves Beer" magazine. Damewood completed a Bachelor of Arts in English with an emphasis in creative writing at Miami University.

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