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Encyclopedia

Plastic

Plastic is one of the most widely used products in the U.S. We use it to package consumer products, to charge our purchases with credit cards, to carry our food and drink, to build our toys and to even make our clothing! There are over 10,000 different kinds of plastic in the world, and it is so versatile and can be mixed with so many other elements that its uses are limitless.

But plastic takes up about 10% of our total waste stream, and it is composed mainly of the non-renewable resource petroleum. So the more petroleum we burn to make new plastic products, the more greenhouse gases we release into the air. Only 5% of all plastic is recycled, so we need to push for more plastic recycling practices in our daily lives.

What is plastic recycling?

Plastic recycling is the process of reprocessing used scrap and waste plastic into new plastic material. Recycling old plastic products uses 20%-40% less energy than manufacturing it from new.

Plastic is created by combining petroleum or natural gas with oxygen or chlorine. This process requires the burning of large amounts of oil. If we recycled all of our plastics we could reduce our oil consumption and save 25% of our landfill space.

What types of plastic products can be recycled?

The American Society of Plastics has recognized seven different types of plastic and has given each category a number, which can be found on the bottom of the plastic container. The two most recyclable categories are:

Marked “1”

This category contains PET or PETE (Polyethylene Terephthalate) plastics. These plastics include:

  • Soda and water bottles
  • Mouthwash bottles
  • Plastic wrap
  • Peanut butter and other food jars
  • Salad dressing bottles

Marked “2”

This category contains HDPE (high-density polyethylene) plastics. These plastics include:

  • Milk containers
  • Trash bags
  • Yogurt containers
  • Liquid laundry detergent containers
  • Shampoo bottles
  • Juice containers

It’s important to always wash and rinse out your plastic containers before you take them to a recycling center.

What are the benefits of plastic recycling?

Here are some benefits of recycling plastic:

  • Recycled plastic can be made into plastic lumber, which is more durable
  • Reduces greenhouse gas emissions
  • Can be used to make toys, park benches, car parts, drainage pipes and more
  • For every 7 trucks it takes to deliver paper bags, it only take 1 truck to deliver plastic bags
  • Recycled soda bottles can be reused to make filling for pillows and jackets
  • The plastic recycling business creates over 200,000 jobs in the U.S.

When you recycle plastic you can create millions of useful new products. To learn more about plastic recycling you can visit the American Chemistry Council’s Plastics Division website or PlasticsReuse.com.