7 Common Plastics Explained

7 Common Plastics Explained

It is easier to break old habits, switch to new products or make better choices when you have all the information.

Sometimes it’s difficult to realise the true impact an issue is having until you see how common it is. This is much the same for plastic. Right now, humans are using plastic in the home, school, leisure time or business, we are not dependent on plastic, although we have become desensitised to the mass scale on which we rely on plastic materials that it can be hard to personally visualise the true negative impact it is having on our planet and our oceans and to our bodies through the absorption microplastics.

Commonly we use 7 different types of plastics, which we identify and define for you below -

 Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE)

This is one of the most used plastics. It’s lightweight, strong, typically transparent and is often used in food packaging and fabrics (polyester). 

Examples: Beverage bottles, Food bottles and polyester clothing or rope. 


High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

Polyethylene is the most common plastic globally, but it’s classified into three types: High-Density, Low-Density, and Linear Low-Density. High-Density Polyethylene is strong and resistant to moisture and chemicals, which makes it ideal for cartons, containers, pipes, and other building materials. 

Examples: Milk cartons, detergent bottles, cereal box liners, toys, buckets, park benches and rigid pipes.

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC or Vinyl)

This hard and rigid plastic is resistant to chemicals and weathering, making it desired for building and construction applications; while the fact that it doesn’t conduct electricity makes it common for high-tech applications, such as wires and cables. It’s also widely used in medical applications because it’s impermeable to germs, is easily disinfected and provides single-use applications that reduce infections in healthcare. However, we must note that PVC is the most dangerous plastic to human health, known to leach dangerous toxins throughout its entire lifecycle (e.g. lead, dioxins, vinyl chloride).  

Examples: Plumbing pipes, credit cards, human and pet toys, rain gutters, teething rings, IV fluid bags and medical tubing and oxygen masks.

Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)

A softer, clearer, and more flexible version of HDPE. It’s often used as a liner in beverage cartons, corrosion-resistant work surfaces, and other products. 

Examples: Plastic/cling wrap, zip lock bags, bubble wrap, garbage bags, grocery bags and beverage cups.

Polypropylene (PP) This is one of the most durable types of plastic. It is more heat resistant than some others, which makes it ideal for such things as food packaging and food storage that are made to hold hot items or be heated. It’s flexible enough to allow for mild bending but retains its shape and strength for a long time.

Examples: Straws, bottle caps, prescription bottles, hot food containers, packaging tape, disposable diapers and DVD/CD boxes (remember those!). 

Polystyrene (PS or Styrofoam)

Better known as Styrofoam, this rigid plastic is low-cost and insulates very well, which has made it a staple in the food, packaging and construction industries. Like PVC, polystyrene is considered to be a dangerous plastic. It can easily leach harmful toxins such as styrene (a neurotoxin), which can easily then be absorbed by food and thus ingested by humans.

Examples: Cups, takeout food containers, shipping and product packaging, egg cartons, cutlery and building insulation.


This category is a catch-all for other types of plastic that don’t belong in any of the other six categories or are combinations of multiple types. We include it because you might occasionally come across the #7 recycling code, so it’s important to know what it means. The most important thing here is that these plastics aren’t typically recyclable. 

Examples: Eyeglasses, baby and sports bottles, electronics, CD/DVDs, lighting fixtures and clear plastic cutlery.