Tuesday, Feb 07, 2023

How much do you know your plastics?

"In theory, most plastics are recyclable! In practice, it's more complicated than that"

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While sustainable practices that call for recycling plastics are spoken about, it is the nitty-gritties of recycling plastics that are easier said than done. Did you know a plastic bottle of water or your shampoo bottle may fall in to different recyclable plastic material? In fact, the recycle symbols come with their own numbers that indicate the type of plastic, and how best to recycle them. Simply put, the three arrows symbol in the form of a triangle that we tend to see on plastic packages and products does not necessarily mean the product is recyclable. The little number inside the triangle, in fact determines the type of plastic used for the product, and whether it is recyclable.

In a post on Instagram, SwmrtBengaluru or SWM practitioners working for adoption of sustainable waste management practices shared the different types of plastic and their unique numbers.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by SwmrtBengaluru (@swmrtbengaluru)

“In theory, most plastics are recyclable! In practice, it’s more complicated than that. Different plastics need different recycling methods, sometimes end up in landfills simply because they are cost-prohibitive and painstaking to recycle, so nobody bothers. #plasticpollution,” it read.

Here are the numbers


Used for soft drink bottles, water bottles, fruit juice containers. Since it is easily recyclable, it is often part of recycling programmes.


Shampoo bottles, washing detergents, grocery bags fall in this category.

Symbol 2 with the acronym HDPE stands for high-density polyethylene. HDPE plastics have low weight, and high strength and are recyclable.

PVC OR Vinyl

Symbol 3 with the letter “V” stand for PVC plastic or polyvinyl chloride. This is common in cleaning products, sheets like foils and trays for fruits. It is not as much recycled.


Symbol 4 examples are bread bags, plastic films that have low-density polyethylene. This is not usually recycled.



PP, or polypropylene plastic with symbol 5, used for yogurt cups, straws, hangers, has durability, strength, and low weight, and said to be safer for food and medicine storage. It is also recyclable.


Polystyrene is formed by chaining them together, or polymerising, styrene, a building-block chemical that is used in the formation of numerous products.


Styrene plastic, also known as polystyrene with symbol 6, is commonly used in toys, cosmetic bags, etc., and are made of more than one material which are not easily recyclable. Styrene also happens naturally inside foods products such as strawberries, cinnamon, and coffee.

Polystyrene is one versatile plastic that can be used to make a wide array of consumer products. As a hard, solid plastic, it is usually, used in products that need clarity, like food packaging and laboratory ware, said Gaurav Jalan, founder of Packman. “When mixed with multiple additives, colorants, and other sorts of plastics, polystyrene is generally, used to create appliances, electronic products, toys, automobile parts, gardening pots, and several other items. Also, known as expanded polystyrene (EPS) or extruded polystyrene (XPS), polystyrene is formed into a foam material, which is considered due to its insulating and cushioning factors. Foam polystyrene could be greater than 95 per cent of air and is mostly utilised to design home and appliance insulation, surfboards, lightweight packaging, food service items and food packaging, automobile parts, etc,” he told

PS typically ends up in landfills or incinerators since recycling it is an intensive process, reads SWMRT Bengaluru’s note. Agreed Jalan and said, “As polystyrene is a combination of different materials, it often presents a hard solution when one thinks of recycling them”.


Symbol 7 including the word others stands for “other plastics,” that comprise more than one type of plastic like acrylic plastic, polylactic fibers, and fiberglass. Not every plastic can be recycled. “Some of these are recycled into buckets, mugs and other household items by informal recyclers”, reads the note.

Why is it important?

Experts state that understanding these would help us reduce waste, limit carbon footprint and help the environment.

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First published on: 06-03-2022 at 10:15 IST
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