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Which plastics can be recycled?

April 18, 2024

Tide Costa Maya_Plastic Bottles

[Reading time : 4.5 min]

Synthetic polymers are everywhere. They are found in products ranging from consumer electronics to medical devices. They're used in nearly every industry. Understandably, plastic has unique properties: the material is lightweight and highly versatile.

But the inability to effectively manage end-of-life plastics has led to a plague of plastic pollution around the world, affecting almost every ecosystem and human welfare.

That's why it's so important to recycle plastics and dedicate resources to creating a circular economy for plastics. Not all plastics are created equal when it comes to recyclability and each polymer has different physical properties. That's why it's crucial to identify the different types of plastics. To create efficient plastic waste management solutions, the waste must be properly sorted.

Resin identification code systems have been introduced to facilitate recycling. The most widely used method for classifying plastics is the Resin Identification Code (RIC) system, created by the Society of the Plastic Industry (SPI) in 1988. The RIC system allows different plastics to be identified by the material from which they are made. It is useful at the beginning of the recycling process to properly sort plastics by type, but it does not mean that every plastic item on this spectrum is recyclable.

The RIC system consists of 7 categories:

Which plastics are recyclable_Resin Identification Codes_PETE


Applications: Beverage bottles, detergent and cleaning containers, food containers.

Recycled by #tide: Yes.

Which plastics are recyclable_Resin Identification Codes_HDPE


Applications: Shampoo bottles, laundry detergent containers, motor oil containers, milk jugs.

Recycled by #tide: Yes.

Resin Identification Codes_Tide Ocean SA


Applications: Shower curtains, flooring, window and door frames, clear food packaging.

Recycled by #tide: No.

Resin Identification Codes_Tide Ocean SA_LDPE


Applications: Insulation materials, frozen foods packaging, shopping bags, plastic wraps.

Recycled by #tide: Yes.



Application: Packaging, bottle caps, outdoor carpets, automotive parts.

Recycled by #tide: Yes.



Application: Packaging, disposable cutlery, food containers, building insulation, modelling outputs.

Recycled by #tide: No.



Application: Medical storage containers, electronics, plastic cutlery, fishing gear (ropes, nets).

Recycled by #tide: Yes, fishing gear made from polyamide (PA).

Challenges and opportunities

While some types of plastics are currently more difficult to recycle due to their physical properties and the lack of efficiency of current recycling systems, advances in recycling technology could provide the impetus for a successful transition to a circular economy for plastics. In addition, policy plays an important role in increasing the collection rates, improving waste management systems and recycling. Forthcoming legislation requiring the use of recycled materials in certain products, such as the European Packaging Directive, will drive recycling facilities to optimize recycling systems and technologies to meet the resulting growing demand for recycled materials.

[Products made with #tide's recycled ocean-bound plastic, from left to right: Dish soap bottle by Migros, textile collection by Kvadrat, furniture collection by Karim Rashid, Speakers by Boompods]

Packaging accounts for almost 40% of the plastics market demand in the EU. And it is worth noting that almost all plastic polymer types used in packaging can already be mechanically recycled with little or no quality degradation. In 2021, only 39.7% of plastic packaging was recycled in the EU. There is a lot of room for improvement, and of course, tackling packaging alone will not solve the problem of plastic pollution. More efficient waste management and recycling systems are needed globally to optimize circular models. But the potential is great, especially if we also change our production habits at the same time. We need to produce less single-use plastic. And where plastic is indeed the best material option, we need to develop products that are designed to be recyclable.

Innovation is key

A growing number of promising innovative solutions are emerging to support the transition to a circular economy, such as

  • Projects, which aim to give a second life to hard-to-recycle plastic waste in the form of building materials that can be used to build infrastructure or furniture, such as Eco Bricks, panels or roofing tiles.

  • Tools such as Plastic IQ, a data-driven digital platform created by UD that enables companies to use less plastic and meet their sustainability goals.

  • And impact programs like #tide's Road to 1 Billion Bottles, which allows companies to make a big impact by helping to prevent plastic waste from entering the ocean.

The challenges remain, but there is a growing awareness about the importance of plastic recycling. Emerging innovations show great potential to spearhead the transition of the plastics economy from a linear to a circular model. Identifying the different types of plastic is the first step in ensuring efficient recycling. Resin Identification Code systems like RIC are great tools for doing just that. While some types of plastics are still more difficult to recycle, the plastics recycling industry is on the rise to meet those challenges.

Keeping plastic out of the environment is critical to protecting ecosystems on land and in the ocean. We depend on the balance of these ecosystems to survive.