Identifying Recyclable Plastics In NZ
Jul 12, 2018
Identifying the types of plastic that can be recycled in New Zealand can be a little confusing. There are some plastics that can be recycled and others that cannot, as well as products that are often made up of several different types of plastic making it even harder to decide.
In order to shed some light on the issue it helps to understand the types of plastics out there and what to look out for when recycling plastic. In a very broad sense there are two types of plastic currently used in manufacturing; Thermoplastics and Thermosets.
- Thermosets. Thermoset plastics are generally suited to higher temperatures and are considered much more durable than Thermoplastics. Thermoset plastics are often used in conjunction with other types of materials making them harder to isolate and recycle. Products that typically contain parts made from Thermoset plastics are TV’s, aeroplanes, cars, tyres, composite wood products, silicone, vinyl flooring, cements and adhesives.
- Thermosplastics. Technically all Thermoplastics can be recycled in some way. Thermoplastics typically include things like fruit and vegetable containers (PET), zip-lock bags, drink bottles, acrylic products, some fabrics, polystyrene and PVC products like airbeds and inflatable swimming pools. This type of plastic is usually described as becoming soft and malleable upon heating returning to its hardened state upon cooling.
Recycling Numbers – What Do They Mean?
In order to identify the Thermoplastics that can be recycled a numbering system is used. Usually encircled by a series of arrows, the numbers 1 – 7 help us to quickly identify whether or not a product is recyclable. Types 1 (PET), 2 (HDPE) and 4 (LDPE) are the most recycled plastics here in new Zealand.
Code 1 – Polyethylene Terephthalate or PET
One of the easiest plastics to recycle, PET plastics are generally flexible, clear in nature and resistant to solvents and water. Common products that are made from PET include fruit packaging or punnets and plastic soft drink bottles. PET is widely used for packaging foods and beverages.
There are several further classifications under the PET umbrella the first being RPET. This is when PET is reclassified when it has been made from recycled PET products. CPET is when PET is crystallised to withstand high heat, and APET (or Amorphous PET) is the same as PET, but the term is often shortened to PET.
New Zealand’s first PET recycling plant opened in mid-2017 and is located in Lower Hutt. In high demand from re-manufacturers, Recycled PET is commonly used to make packaging, food and beverage containers, carpets, strapping and polyester fibres for clothing.
Code 2 – High-Density Polyethylene or HDPE
HDPE is generally much harder in nature and very resistant to solvents and liquids. Products made from HDPE include milk bottles, cleaning and washing product bottles, and some cosmetics casings.
HDPE is also highly recyclable and can be made into a variety of new goods including things like rubbish bins, garden edging and outdoor furniture.
Code 3 – Poly Vinyl Chloride or PVC
PVC is a very widely used plastic around the world, it can be found in two distinct forms – rigid and flexible. PVC is commonly used in pipes and other plumbing fittings, along with bank cards, bags and non-food type containers.
Recycled PVC can be used to make further packaging, components of carpet, traffic cones and much more. PVC products must not be heated as it is possible they can release toxins. PVC is not easily recycled in NZ.
Code 4 – Low-Density Polyethylene or LDPE
LDPE plastics offer greater flexibility in packaging as well as being tough and resistant oils and acids. LDPE is considered less toxic than other plastics, things like plastic wrap, bubble wrap, zip-lock bags, and grocery bags.
When recycled, LDPE plastic can be used in the production of outdoor furniture, garden edging, bin liners and floor tiles. LDPE plastics are easily recycled in New Zealand.
Code 5 – Polypropylene or PP
PP sits somewhere between the properties of LDPE and HDPE and is a very versatile plastic. PP is generally semi-rigid and translucent with good resistance to chemicals and solvents as well as heat.
PP plastic products include things like medicine bottles, some takeaway containers, bottle caps, and plastic cutlery. Recycled PP can be made into a wide variety of items including automotive products, tools and household items.
Code 6 – Polystyrene or PS
Also sometimes identified as Expanded Polystyrene (EPS), PS and EPS are not highly recycled in New Zealand. Items made from PS and EPS are styrofoam cups, meat trays and protective packaging.
Examples of products made with recycled PS are light switches, plastic mouldings and packaging. Polystyrene is usually recyclable within the commercial sector in NZ.
Code 7 – Plastic Composition – Other (Composite)
Generalised as ‘other’ this category includes any plastic that is not classified as PET,HDPE, PVC, LDPE, PP or PS. This can include new plastics developed since the original classification system was developed in 1988.
For this reason this plastics labelled with the numeric code 7 require further investigation as to whether they are recyclable or not.
Recycling plastics helps to save money and reduce the impact on the environment, just remember to rinse and clean all plastic containers before recycling to ensure they are able to be processed.