Learning Which Plastics Are Recyclable and Which Aren’t

Learning Which Plastics Are Recyclable and Which Aren’t

December 21, 2023

The modern world is intricately interwoven with plastic. Its versatility, durability, and affordability have made it an indispensable material in numerous industries. However, plastic consumption has a significant environmental cost. Proper use and disposal of certain plastics can play a key role in mitigating plastic’s environmental footprint. 

Recycling—one of the three Rs of environmentalism—can lead to substantial environmental benefits. Implementing this key effort into your daily habits and business practices can conserve valuable resources, decrease waste in landfills, and contribute to collective efforts toward maintaining a healthier planet. Learn which plastics are recyclable and which aren't and reconsider the type of plastics you use in your business.

The Importance of Recycling Plastic

Plastic items take hundreds of years to decompose in landfills, posing a significant threat to animals and humans alike. Additionally, plastic waste can leach toxic chemicals into the soil and water, contaminating food and water resources. Furthermore, when incinerated, plastic releases harmful toxins into the atmosphere. 

Whether you burn or throw away plastic, either disposal method can cause considerable environmental damage. Recycling plastic significantly cuts down on waste, reduces pressure on our landfills, and decreases harmful emissions. In short, it’s a more sustainable, more environmentally friendly disposal method. 

Types of Plastic and Their Recycling Capabilities

Navigating the world of recyclable plastics can be complex due to the array of different types of plastic and their recycling qualifications. However, understanding the different types of recyclable plastics is crucial to recycling effectively. Recyclable plastics are classified into seven different categories, each with unique properties and different recyclable qualities.


Polyethylene terephthalate, commonly known as PET, is the most widely recycled plastic. It’s commonly used for beverage bottles and food packaging due to its safety and recyclability. PET is easy to recycle because of its ability to maintain its integrity during the recycling process. 

Once recovered and processed, PET plastic can be remade into new bottles and containers, clothing, carpeting, and more without losing its basic physical properties. Moreover, unlike other types of plastic, PET does not release harmful fumes during the recycling process, making it more environmentally friendly and a safer choice for recycling operations.


High-density polyethylene (HDPE) is also highly recyclable. Like PET, HDPE doesn’t lose its properties during the recycling process, making it an ideal material for repurposing into other products. Recycling HDPE also conserves energy and resources.


Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is technically recyclable, but practical considerations often make it a less viable candidate for the recycling process. Unlike PET and HDPE, PVC is difficult to recycle due to its chemical composition. When subjected to heat during the recycling process, PVC can release harmful chlorine gas, posing significant environmental and health risks. As a result, many recycling facilities do not accept PVC.

PVC can also contaminate other materials during recycling, making the process even more problematic. Specialized facilities can handle PVC recycling, but they’re relatively few and far between. 


Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) is not often recycled. It poses unique challenges that hinder its widespread recycling. One primary issue is the lightweight, flexible nature of LDPE items, which include plastic bags and films. These characteristics make LDPE products susceptible to clogging machinery at recycling facilities, leading to costly maintenance and downtime. 

LDPE products also often come into contact with food and other waste, which contaminate the plastic. Therefore, LDPE products often require extensive cleaning before you can recycle them. Moreover, LDPE’s recycling process is more energy intensive than that of other plastics, which can be an economic deterrent for some recycling facilities.


Polypropylene (PP) is gaining more recognition in recycling programs. The recyclability of PP has been historically limited due to its low melting point, which complicates the recycling process. However, with advancements in recycling technology, PP is gradually being accepted in more recycling programs. Once collected and processed, PP can be reused in products such as auto parts, industrial fibers, and landscape fabric.


Polystyrene (PS), commonly known as Styrofoam, is infrequently recycled due to its lightweight nature and high recycling cost. PS is considered non recyclable in most places for many reasons. PS is largely composed of air, making it lightweight yet bulky—it takes up a lot of space in relation to its weight. This makes transporting PS items to recycling facilities costly. Items made from PS are also often contaminated with food and other waste, which makes them unsuitable for recycling unless they’ve been thoroughly cleaned. 

Furthermore, PS requires special facilities and equipment to compress it into a more manageable size and then heat it to a high temperature to break it down. Due to these factors, most recycling programs find recycling PS uneconomical, and it often ends up in landfills.

Other Recyclable Plastics

This category is a mixed bag. It includes any plastic that does not fit into any of the above categories. Some of these plastics are recyclable, while others are not.

Why Are Some Plastics Recyclable but Others Aren’t?

The recyclability of plastic largely depends on two factors: the type of plastic and the local recycling program. Different types of plastics are made from different types of resin, leading to varying properties and recycling processes. For instance, PET and HDPE are widely recycled, as they can be easily reprocessed into new items. On the other hand, the remaining plastics on this list are less commonly recycled due to the complexity and cost of their recycling processes.

Local recycling programs also play crucial roles. Not all recycling facilities have the capacity or technology to recycle all types of plastic, which means the recyclability of a plastic item can vary depending on your location. Some recycling programs accept only certain types of plastic, while others may accept more types. Each type of plastic is theoretically recyclable, but practical and economic factors determine whether or not it is recycled.

Why Plastic Recyclability Matters 

The plastic bags you use to promote your brand play crucial roles in your commitment to sustainability. Opting for recycled or recyclable plastic can reduce your company’s carbon footprint, promote sustainable practices, and appeal to clients, employees, and partners who are committed to environmental efforts. 

At Holden Bags, we sell 100 percent recyclable custom plastic bags at wholesale prices, offering affordable, environmentally friendly plastic-bag solutions. On top of being sustainable, these bags are also customizable, allowing you to promote your brand proudly. 

Understanding which plastics are recyclable and which aren't is a significant step toward responsible waste management and better environmental practices. By being mindful of the products you use in your business, you can reduce your environmental impact and contribute to a more sustainable future.