Recycling allows us to reuse the materials that have been extracted from the environment to make plastic, rather than just put them in landfills or incinerate them - which creates problems of pollution as well as being a waste of resources. However, the amount of plastic that can be recycled and that actually gets recycled is relatively low.

There are six different types of plastic - PETE (polyethylene terephthalate), HDPE (high density polyethylene), V (vinyl), LDPE (low density polyethylene), PP (polypropylene), PS (polystyrene) - and the a 7th category for other and composite types. The New Plastic Economy have put together a great infographic that outlines some of the common uses of these different plastic types.



The Ocean Conservancy has also put together a great guide on plastic types and their recyclability. It's just the right size to print out for your wallet.



The truth about recycling

According to the New Plastics Economy report:

  • Only 14% of plastic packaging is actually collected for recycling and not all of it can be recycled. A lot of plastic packaging is designed for use just once.
  • After sorting and reprocessing only 5% of the material collected can actually be recycled, and what is recycled often can’t be recycled the next time around because it loses some of its quality in the process.
  • Even PET plastic, used in a lot of common products like water bottles, is limited in its recycling - only about half of PET is collected and only 7% of this is recycled ‘bottle-to-bottle’.
  • 72% of plastic packaging isn’t recycled or reused in any way. 40% goes into landfills, and 35% either isn’t collected or doesn’t go through the system properly.
  • Only 2% of plastic is actually reused by the system


Rates of recycling

According to an EPA report released last year, in 2013 the highest national recycling rate was 63%. This covered all kinds of recycling, and not just plastics.

  1. Austria 63%
  2. Germany 62%
  3. Taiwan 60%
  4. Singapore 59%
  5. Belgium 58%
  6. South Korea 49%
  7. UK 39%
  8. Italy 36%
  9. France 35%
  10. US 34%
  11. Australia 30%
  12. Canada 27%
  13. Japan 21%