Plastic is a collective term used for a wide range of synthetic products or semi-synthetic materials. They are found everywhere from the clothes we wear to the cars we travel in. The word ‘’plastic’’ comes from the Greek word ”plastikos” which means fit for molding, whilst ”plastos” meaning molded which refers to the material’s malleability.
It is not a pure substance but rather a mix of it, with the high polymer (or synthetic resin) as its main component and an addition of auxiliary materials such as fillers, plasticizers, lubricants, stabilizers, coloring agents, and etc. improves its quality. In 1988, the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) established an organized system which uses SPI codes on each plastic product. This is to help both consumers and recyclers to properly recycle and dispose of each type of plastic based on its chemical components.
Different Kinds of Plastics
SPI code of 1 are plastic that are made with polyethylene terephthalate which is also known as PET or PETE. A PETE-based container absorbs both the odors and flavors from foods and drinks that are stored inside of them. Products of this plastic are water bottles of all sizes, jars for common kitchen goods such as peanut butter, and many more. When recycled, these materials can be used for either clothing materials or carpets.
SPI code of 2 are high-density polyethylene, or HDPE products. It is known to be safe, due its ability to prevent leakage of chemicals into either foods or drinks. Products made from this plastic would include milk jugs, laundry detergent, shampoos and conditioners, and soap bottles. When these are recycled, they can be used for plastic lumber or bathroom partition materials.
SPI code of 3 is made with polyvinyl chloride. It is usually found in plumbing pipes and flooring tiles. It is never to be used for food items due its harmful effects when ingested. But when recycled, it can be used for flooring, walls, and industrial-grade materials.
SPI code of 4 is made with low-density polyethylene, or LDPE which is known for its flexibility and durability. It is a safe choice for food storage such as Ziploc sandwich bags. These aren’t commonly recycled but are still viable to be used as garbage can material and other common household products.
SPI code of 5 is made with polypropylene. It is durable and can withstand high temperatures which are best used in products such as Tupperware’s, prescription bottles, etc. These aren’t usually recycled but can be reused as durable items like rakes.
SPI code of 6 is made with polystyrene, also known as Styrofoam. Products would include disposable coffee cups, refrigerator trays, cosmetic bags, etc. Recycled Styrofoam can be used for license plate frames and ruler.
Lastly, SPI code of 7 is used for miscellaneous types of plastic that are not classified by the other 6. This would include Polycarbonate and polylactide. Polycarbonate is commonly used in baby bottles, large water bottles, and etc.
Reduce, Reuse, and Recycling Plastics
Today, the world consists of at least 7 billion people and is still rapidly growing. A lot has changed in the past centuries, especially the environment. Resources are no longer freely available nor abundant and people are fighting over what’s left. And Instead of replenishing these resources, people would just add even more waste, creating twice as more trash than actually salvaging it. For others, it is a lot easier to ignore the grim reality of what’s really happening than actually saving it.
As of 2017, the world’s response to the dying planet is through energy saving routines and one of the routines would include recycling. Recycling is a process of collecting and processing of trash, into new products. It reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills and combustion facilities. It conserves natural resources, saves energy, and helps sustain the environment for future generations.
Plastic is one the most common materials used nowadays and is essential that it would be recycled since it is non-biodegradable. Plastics are available in a number of forms like plastic containers, jars, bottles, plastic bags, and many more. Each plastic item, are categorized based on their chemical make-up and are sorted accordingly when recycled. They are identified through 7 categories, SPI code 1 to 7. SPI code 1 which would include soft drink bottles, mineral water bottles, juice containers and etc whilst SPI code 7, are for baby bottle or multi-gallon capacity containers. Consumers and recyclers would just need to follow the encoded numbers to properly recycle each one.
Like Plastic, rubber also has become prominent in industries. It is used all in different materials but most commonly in tires of vehicles. It is important that rubber be recycled due to its long process of decomposition, and when burnt, it becomes poisonous and carcinogenic. Instead of increasing landfill pollution, it is better to recycle rubber and reuse it. There are multiple processes used to properly reuse tires. Firstly, the tired need to be collected the landfill and then taken into to the production site of an industry. Followed by vulcanization, the tire mulch is made to form new rubber for newer tires.
For the mechanical process, the tires are shredded by vigorous machines. The rubber is then pulverized and magnets are used to separate steel from other magnetic elements. Lastly, vulcanization takes place, where rubber polymers are strengthened by the addition of steel and Sulphur. Reclaimed rubber has many uses such as cushioning in parks or schools, sport shoes, for sidewalks, and also as a source for coal fuel.
Waste, and how one chooses to handle it, affects the world’s environment. The environment is everything around including the air, water, land, plants, and everything man-made. That is why is it important to reduce, reuse, and recycle products such as plastics and rubbers. Proper disposal and waste management are just simple ways to protect the planet from dying. Not only does it help the world today, but it would also help the future generations.
Are Plastic Products Safe?
Plastic is present in almost every product being sold, from Ziploc bags to coffee cups, and to microbeads in cosmetic products. It is a mixture of both high polymer (synthetic resin) and auxiliary materials such as fillers, plasticizers, lubricants, stabilizers, coloring agents, and etc. That is why plastic product safety has come into the attention of the general public.
In 1988, the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) established an organized system which uses SPI codes on each plastic product. From there, consumers would then be able to determine the type of plastic and how harmful it can be; whether the plastic product can be recycled, how many times it can be reused and if it’s even recyclable at all.
Global companies such as UL dedicate themselves to serving customers and stakeholders to ensure responsible design, production, marketing and purchase of the goods. They provide the complete view of how products function within a given system, particularly plastics. On the other hand, the BPF ensures product safety and monitors it.
The Committee focuses on the key issues surrounding;
- Chemicals policy
- Plastics in contact with foodstuffs
- Plastics in medical applications
- Plastics in potable water applications
- Plastics in toy applications
- General product liability issues
- Crisis management and media scares
Through BPF Activity, lobbying and participation in BSI and CEN Committees, formulation of standards surrounding the safe usage of plastics are ensured.
In Australia, a plasticizer called DEHP is banned from products that are intended for use by children up to and including 36 months of age or products that contain or have an accessible component containing more than 1 per cent by weight of DEHP.
Overall, consumers around the world should be aware of the different types of plastics. While the vast majority of Tupperware and similar products are considered safe, some food storage containers that are repeatedly used can cause harm due to the presence of polycarbonate. Another component of plastic is polystyrene which can also be dangerous as it can cause skin, eye, and respiratory irritation; an example of plastic with polystyrene is takeout orders from restaurants. It is important to be updated with the proper ways for plastics to be used, whether they are safe to be recycled or not. Plastic product safety may be under the supplier’s control but it is also the seller’s responsibility to be aware of the product’s details.