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Plastics: Life After the Blue Box

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Plastic packaging has come under scrutiny of late, but the good news is that it can be recycled repeatedly to find new life in different products without ending up in landfills.

Plastic packaging has come under scrutiny of late, but the good news is that it can be recycled repeatedly to find new life in different products without ending up in landfills. And your consumer choices can help cut down on needless waste.

Plastic is not one single material but the name for a family of materials, each named and coded according to its unique chemical properties. The general rule for recycling codes is that the lower the number, the easier it can be recycled by the facilities in your area. Check with your local officials.

1. Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) - Most commonly used for soft drink bottles. PET is the most expensive resin of the six major types of plastic. Uses for recycled PET include carpet fibre, boat hulls, scouring pads and furniture.

2. High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) - Used to make plastic bottle products such as milk jugs, juice bottles and ice cream tubs. Motor oil bottles, trash cans, picnic tables and recycling bins are made from recycled HDPE.

3. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) - The most versatile of the six main plastics because it can be blended with other compounds to create very rigid or very flexible plastics. PVC is very resistant to oil, grease and some chemicals, and is often used to package household detergents. Recycled PVC products include traffic cones, mud flaps, drainage pipes and garden hose.

4. Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) - Generally used to make shopping bags and shrink-wraps. LDPE is more flexible than HDPE and has better impact resistance qualities. In its more rigid form, LDPE is used to make squeezable plastic bottles and flexible lids. Once recycled, LDPE can be used to make trash bags and shipping envelopes.

5. Polypropylene (PP) - Also a very versatile plastic that is used for much more than just packaging, including car bumpers, rope and twine. Its very high melting point makes PP ideal for holding hot beverages. Recycled PP is used for a variety of products including oil funnels, brooms, ice scrapers and auto battery cases.

6. Polystyrene (PS) - Used to make a variety of foam products including egg cartons, meatpacking trays, preparation cups for instant soups and hot beverage containers. People often refer to the material as "Styrofoam," but this is actually a registered trademark for a particular brand.

7. Other Polymers - If a plastic product is made from something other than the six main plastic resins, or if it is made from a combination of resins, it is coded as "other."

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