Know The Types of Plastics and Recycle Them Better
When you look at items in your house, there are so many that are made of plastics or packaged in a plastic material. Plastics have many advantages such as lightweight, durable, flexible, chemical resistant, and waterproof and have revolutionized the consumer economy over the past several decades.
However, pollution from plastic wastes causes harm to all living lives including humans and it takes hundreds (if not thousands) years to reverse the damages. So, why plastic is so bad for our environment?
How much plastics we have sent to the landfill and ocean?
We have created about 9 billion metric tons of plastics to date, outgrowing all man-made materials other than steel and cement. This amount is equivalent to 80 million of blue whales (weighting 105 tons)! In year 2015, the numbers looked like:
- 270 million metric tons : global plastic production
- 275 million metric tons : total plastic waste
- 5 million metric tons : coastal plastic waste
- 9 million metric tons : mismanaged plastic waste
- 8 million metric tons : plastic waste went into the ocean
What environmental impacts the plastic wastes causing?
- When plastics break down into small pieces in the landfill or the ocean, it becomes micro plastics. Micro plastics are not visible to our eyes and affects all organisms in the food chain from tiny plankton to big whales or humans. In fact, plastic trash is found in the guts of more than 90 percent of the world’s sea birds, more than half of the world’s sea turtles, and even choking the life out of whales. The mass of plastic in the ocean predicted by 2050 is more than the number of fish.
- About 1 to 8 litters of water is used to make a 500ml bottle. Global warming is expected to increase the level of water stress around the world.
- When plastics end up in the environment, they attract micro-organisms, such as harmful bacteria. If microplastics containing these bacteria enter our body, they may increase the risk of infection.
- The process of producing plastic creates billions of tones of greenhouse gasses which cause global warming.
Can we recycle all plastics?
Not all plastics are recyclable. Identify the type of plastic material by looking at the number on the product or packaging.
#1: PET, PETE, PE – These are the most commonly used plastics, and used for water bottles, food packaging bags, polyester clothing, etc. This material can be recycled at most places.
#2: HDPE – This material is classified into 3 types, High-density, low-density, and linear law-density. These are used for milk cartons, bottles, toys, and building materials. This material can be recycled at most places.
#3: PVC – This is the most toxic plastic and should be sent to recycling facilities. It is used for plumbing pipes, credit cards, toys, medical tubing, etc.
#4: LDPE – A softer version of HDPE and used for clear wrap, sandwich bags, beverage cups, etc. This can be recycled if there is a facility available at your local area.
#5: PP – This is the most heat resistant and durable plastic and used for food storage, bottle caps, disposable diapers, etc. This can be recycled if there is a facility available at your local area.
#6: PS – Known as Styrofoam and used for disposable cups, takeaway containers, packaging, etc. This can be recycled if there is a facility available at your local area. But these are most likely not recyclable.
#7: Other types of plastics – Most of these plastics aren’t recyclable. Examples are eyeglasses, lighting fixtures, sports bottles, etc. Check how you can dispose these materials at your local area.
Plastics are fantastic material, but we need to use them in a right way so that we do not waste them, and we do not harm our planet. You might think this is just 1 plastic bag when you are throwing it in a bin. But remember we have 7.9 billion people on this planet. 1 plastic bag from each person will be 7.9 billion plastic bags! Let’s re-purpose or recycle existing plastics as much as we can, and dispose the rest correctly.