Is There A Good And Bad Plastic?


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Plastic is evil is what every environmentalist will tell you. And that’s true. But we all know it is a necessary evil. Apart from being difficult to recycle, plastic is made from fossil fuels which are even worse for the environment. Among the types of plastics, there are some that can be recycled and hence are better for the environment than other plastics.

The safest plastic is HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) which is found in thicker opaque plastic bottles such as juice bottles, shampoo, household cleaner bottles, tubs and jugs. This is the most recyclable plastic and can be converted into containers, furniture, bottles, pens, etc. This is safe to reuse too, unlike PET bottles (most common clear beverage bottles) which are supposed to be used just once, else they may leach carcinogens. PET is easily recyclable into carpet, furniture, fibre, yarn, bags, etc. Reusability gives HDPE the better green score.

PVC or vinyl as it is commonly known is used to make pipes, food wraps, medical equipment, doors and windows, etc. It is toxic in nature and should be kept away from food and children. Though it can be recycled into flooring, speed breakers, panelling, decks, and gutter covers, only 1 percent is actually recycled.

LDPE or Low Density Polyethylene is used to make the most commonly used carry bags, squeezable bottles, clothes, carpet and food wraps. It is recycled into garbage bins, panelling, can liners, tiles and envelopes.

Polystyrene or Styrofoam or Thermocol is most popularly used to make disposable coffee cups, packaging material, plates, meat trays, etc. It is one of the worst plastics as it is not easily recyclable. Styrofoam accounts for 35 percent of US landfills. It can release carcinogens when heated in microwave ovens. Some can be converted to packaging and insulation material.

Polypropylene plastics are used to make curd containers, sauce, syrup, and medicine bottles. These are increasingly being recycled into lead battery cases, pallets, brooms, ice scrapers, etc. They are safe to reuse.

Some companies are producing bio-plastics which are made from plants instead of fossil fuels. They are better environmentally but do check if they are recyclable or not. Coca Cola is mixing bio-plastic content to its PET bottles.

Plastic Wrap Or Plastic Bottle?

Next time you go shopping, check the container type and see if there are any options, like some products (example – liquid soap, shampoo) come both in polythene packs and plastic bottles (mostly HDPE, some are PET). Here, HDPE plastic bottles are better because they can be recycled.

Prefer glass bottles if available. Though glass is heavier and has a slightly higher carbon footprint of transportation, it is infinitely recyclable. In fact, the glass you drink from could have been recycled 3000 years back! Don’t forget to carry your own bags and try to use paper bags too wherever possible.

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