What Are Possible Uses of Recyclable Plastic?

Cindy Quarters

Most kinds of plastic can be recycled, including plastic bags, water and soda bottles, detergent containers, and more. Recyclable plastic containers typically have a triangular recycling symbol on them, along with a number code that indicates the general category the plastic falls into. The numbers one through seven are used to represent the various types of plastic and are based on the composition of the plastic. These can be made into various items such as clothing, containers, and outdoor furniture, cutting down on the amount of trash that goes into landfills while providing material for manufacturing at the same time.

Recyclable plastic containers typically have a triangular recycling symbol stamped on the base.
Recyclable plastic containers typically have a triangular recycling symbol stamped on the base.

The recycling process generally involves collecting a large quantity of items made of the same type of plastic together for processing, using the code numbers as a means of identifying the various types. Each item is cleaned and melted down, then shaped into small pellets that become the raw material for new products. Although some of the work is done by hand, in most cases every step of the processing is handled by machine, making the system quick and efficient.

Recycled plastics can be turned into many items such as furniture, motor oil and detergent bottles and pipes and pails.
Recycled plastics can be turned into many items such as furniture, motor oil and detergent bottles and pipes and pails.

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One very common type of recyclable plastic is number one bottles, which includes water and soda bottles, as well as other types of plastic beverage bottles. When these are recycled they can be made into fabric-like products, such as carpets and backpacks. Number one bottles are also used to make insulation for sleeping bags and jackets and to create polar fleece for coats, gloves, and vests.

A plastic bag made of recycled plastic.
A plastic bag made of recycled plastic.

Number two recyclable plastic includes many different kinds of bottles. Some of the more common containers are milk jugs, detergent bottles, and juice containers. These items are turned into a wide variety of items such as buckets, seating for arenas and stadiums, plastic toys, and new bottles. The number two plastics are generally not all recycled together, even though they are in the same category, and the plastics that contained food items are handled separately from those that contained soap.

Pellets of recycled plastic.
Pellets of recycled plastic.

In addition to things already listed, recyclable plastic milk and juice bottles can be made into simulated wood products. The plastic is dyed and molded into the shape of boards and is then used to create almost anything that can be made of wood, with the advantage that the recyclable plastic doesn’t rot, so these items have the potential to last a very long time. Chairs, picnic tables, boat docks, and decks are just a few of the items made with plastic lumber. It can also be used for children’s play sets, fencing, and doghouses.

A water bottle made out of recycled plastic.
A water bottle made out of recycled plastic.

Not all plastics are considered to be recyclable plastic, though this can vary by area. Most recycling programs don’t handle all types of materials, but instead limit themselves to certain specific items. Part of the reason for this is that there are no facilities nearby to handle all the different types of items, and part of the reason is that some plastic items simply don’t recycle well. Typically a recycling program will use the recycling numbers to communicate which plastic items they accept and which ones they don’t.

Plastic containers are often equipped with numeric symbols, which allow for easier sorting.
Plastic containers are often equipped with numeric symbols, which allow for easier sorting.

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