What are the 7 types of Plastics?
There are several types of plastics in the world with different properties, chemical structures, and applications. Some of them are recyclable, and some of them are not. Just look around you, and you’ll realize almost everything you see is partly or completely made from plastic.
Without further ado, let’s dive into the 7 types of plastic dominant in the plastic processing industry.
- Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE or Polyester)
- High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
- Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC – U)
- Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
- Polypropylene (PP)
- Polystyrene (PS)
1. Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE or Polyester) –
Source - packagingnews.co.uk
PET, also known as polyester, is a semi-crystalline and colorless plastic material with fantastic properties such as chemical, mechanical and thermal resistance and dimensional stability. It is also called wrinkle-free fiber and is mostly utilized in the textile and food packaging industries.
It has an impressive strength to weight ratio, good water resistance, and shatterproof as useful properties. In addition, it is recyclable and comes with the number “1” as a recycling symbol.
It is one of the most popular thermoplastics in the world, with an annual production of 56 metric tons. The textile industry is the biggest consumer with 60 productions, and the second-largest consumer is the packaging and bottling industry with 30% consumption.
The thermoplastic may also contain antimony trioxide, which is considered a carcinogen capable of causing cancer in living human tissue. The longer it is kept in warm temperature situations like inside cars, garages, and enclosed garages, the more the chances of releasing the hazardous matter.
2. High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) –
Source - vlmaritime.com
HDPE is a stronger and thicker plastic material than PET, thanks to its long, virtually unbranched polymer chains. It is known for its excellent tensile strength, low cost, high melting point, and good impact strength. Typically available in rod and sheet forms, it is effortless to fabricate using standard and traditional thermoplastic welding equipment.
Excellent machinability makes HDPE an ideal choice for producing larger products like water and chemical tanks and smaller, mainstream products like milk jugs, plastic bottles, juice containers, shampoo bottles, medicine bottles, beach bottles, cutting boards, pipings, grocery bags, etc.
It is recyclable and more relatively stable than PET and has FDA compliance for food and medicinal applications. Recycling HDPE can save up to 50% of material cost, and you shouldn’t worry about the quality as it would be a good virgin material.
A high melting point of 210 to 270°C and corrosion resistance makes it more suitable for more consumer goods and packaging applications.
Interesting Read – How is Plastic Made? A Simple and Detailed Explanation.
3. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC – U) –
PVC Sheets, Source - chemseed.com
PVC is a type of plastic known for its versatility and economic values, widely used in the construction and building industry. The common PVC applications include doors, windows, wires, and cable insulation, pipes & fittings. Applications from other industries include blister wrap, cling wrap, detergent bottles, toys, and medical tubing.
It is white, brittle, and available in powder and granules form. PVC is quickly replacing traditional materials like wood, metal, steel, concrete, rubber, and ceramics in many applications, thanks to many excellent properties such as durability, low cost, lightweight, and easy processability.
In terms of toxicity, polyvinyl chloride has a very controversial image as it is considered one of the most toxic and hazardous plastics in the world. Its prolonged use may lead to the leaching of a variety of chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA), leads, cadmium, phthalates, mercury, dioxins.
Apart from that, it’s sporadic to see PVC being recycled (depends on your locality). So, from an environmental standpoint, avoiding PVC is the best choice. Having said that, even though it is hazardous to the environment, there’s no visible harm to its popularity.
4. Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE) –
LDPE food packaging, Source - xlplastics.com
LDPE comes from the same polyurethanes family as HDPE. It is tough, lightweight, soft, and flexible in nature. The thermoplastic boasts good chemical properties, great impact strength, low-temperature compatibility, good corrosion resistance.
It has a relatively simple chemical structure (the main reason for its low density). It is primarily used in applications where stiffness and structural strength is a requirement. The common applications are pharmaceutical packaging, liners, trash bags, food packaging films, laminations, flexible and lightweight toys, housewares, water pipes, hoses, cable jacketing & coatings, and sub-consumer insulators.
The plastic recycling code for LDPE is #4. It does not contain BPA but is suspectable of leaching estrogenic chemicals. Recycling with this plastic is not as common as other thermoplastics. But there is no rock-solid proof of LDPE hurting the human body in any way.
5. Polypropylene (PP) –
Source - durochem.com
Polypropylene is a stiff, tough, rigid, and heat-resistant thermoplastic material. It is the most utilized thermoplastic on the planet, with market size of an estimated USD 78.22 Billion in 2019.
Salient features include water resistance, fatigue resistance, high electrical resistance, low cost, high recyclability. Talking about the main applications, automotive parts like fender lines, door trims, battery cases, trays, boxes, etc. Medical applications are food trays, specimen bottles, pill containers, medical vials, etc. Industrial applications include tanks, sheets, pipes, packaging, etc.
It is considered safe for food and beverage applications and is easily processible in injection molding and extrusion.
Below are the typical properties of polypropylene:
2 – 6 kJ/m2 at 20 °C
1.04 – 1.06 g/cm3
|Elastic Modulus||1.5 – 3 GPa|
0.41 W/(m.K) at 20 °C
|Flammability||UL 94 HB|
1*1013 – 1*1014 Ω.m at 20 °C
|Dielectric constant||2.8 at 20 °C|
|Specific heat capacity||
1520 J/(kg.K) at 20 °C
|Max. service temperature (short)||140°C|
|Coefficient of thermal expansion||
6*10-5 – 1*10-4 1/K at 20 °C
6. Polystyrene (PS) –
Source - jamaicatimesja.com
Polystyrene is a naturally transparent and synthetic thermoplastic material extracted from styrene monomer. It is mainly available in sheet and foam forms. Expanded Polystyrene foam is known for its extensive use in food packaging applications in foam form. Other prominent applications include consumer appliances, containers, CDs, test tubes, smoke detectors, etc.
Firmness in the polymer’s backbone makes it suitable for packaging applications. Even if the number and versatility of applications are impressive, the recycling rate of PS is low, which can discourage manufacturers.
Below is a table with typical properties of polystyrene:
53 MPa (7700 PSI)
210-249 °C (410-480 °F)
|Heat Deflection Temperature (HDT)||
95 °C (284 °F) at 0.46 MPa (66 PSI)
83 MPa (12000 PSI)
|Typical Injection Molding Temperature||
38 – 66 °C (100 – 150 °F)
|Molecular Weight of Repeat unit||104.15 g mol-1|
|Molar Cohesive Energy||
J mol-1 34200 – 37100
g mL-1 1.05 – 1.06
|Entanglement Molecular Weight||
g mol-1 13600 – 17500
|Solubility Parameter||18.5 – 19.4 MPa|
7. Others –
The “Others” category includes types of plastics not identified by numbers 1-6 or other plastics mixed or layered with additives to create different grades and variations, like Bioplastics. The most notable plastic material in this category is Polycarbonate; although a mainstream plastic material with various applications in several industries, it is somewhat losing its popularity because of its affiliation with BPA. The low-rate rate of recyclability for polycarbonate adds more to the problem.
It is typically used for making baby bottles, after gallon and bottles, dental sealings, ketchup containers, etc.
Talking about other contenders, ABS comes to my mind, an amorphous polymer with fantastic impact resistance properties. It is opaque in nature and compromised of three monomers called Acrylonitrile, Butadiene, Styrene.
Salient properties include High rigidness and strength, Good abrasion resistance, Good mechanical strength with constant stability, Excellent surface brightness, Great impact resistance even at low temperatures.
The common applications can be found in industries like automotive, electrical, electronics, appliances. The most prominent products are steering wheel covers, instrument panels, pillar trims, seat belt components, electrical enclosures, computer keyboards, irons, toasters, vacuum cleaners, appliance control panels, shavers, refrigerator lines, etc.
Talking about recyclability, It is relatively harmless for humans as there are no signs of carcinogens.
For additional knowledge on plastic types, you can refer to the photo below:
Source - ryedale.gov.uk
1. Which is the toughest plastic material in the world?
Ans. Polycarbonate is the toughest plastic material in the world. It is 200 times stronger than glass and is warranted against breakage or cracks. Such high impact strength makes it applicable in bulletproof glasses and in structures that are situated in places where there is snow or hail so that the building is not impacted by such throws.
2. What is the lifespan of plastics?
Ans. Generally, plastic items take up to 1000 years to decompose in landfills. The plastic bags that we use in our day-to-day lives take about 10 to 2 years to decompose, whereas plastic bottles take up to 450 years.
3. Which is the most lightweight plastic?
Ans. LDPE is the most lightweight plastic material known for its softness and flexibility. It is also known for its temperature resistance, toughness, and corrosion resistance.
4. What is the oldest synthetic plastic?
Ans. Bakelite was the first synthetic plastic ever to be created and used commercially. It was invented by Belgian-American chemist Leo Baekeland in 1907.
5. Which plastic has the highest heat resistance?
Ans. There are a few plastic materials that have good heat resistance capabilities, but according to my knowledge, the best material with the highest heat resistance and good overall properties is PTFE. It is highly flexible, thermal resistant, chemical resistant, non-stick, and electrically resistant and can also withstand harsh chemicals and acids.
Suggested Read –
The Takeaway –
Those were my thoughts on the 7 types of plastic we all needed to know about. Those are all the mainstream plastic materials with tremendous potential and work for you well. The way a manufacturer utilizes the plastic material is very crucial for achieving near-perfect production results.
Many manufactures tend to make mistakes while choosing the right material and creates some long-term production issues. Consulting your material supplier about the production requirements is the best option to always make the right decision and make minimal mistakes.
Kindly share your reviews and questions in the comment box.
Have a wonderful day 🙂