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Main types and sources of plastic

It is important for you to know what kind of plastic you generate to plan a recycling scheme or discuss your requirements with recycling contractors.

Plastics waste falls into two main categories:

  • Pre-use plastic (production scrap)
  • Post-use plastic 

Pre-use plastic 

Pre-use plastic waste is likely either to be plastic that has not met the specification required for its designed use, or off-cuts arising during assembly or installation. Examples of off-specification material might include material that has the wrong colour, wrong hardness, or wrong processing characteristics. Although this material is not suitable for its intended use, it may be suitable for other applications and has the potential to be recycled. Off-cuts can be recycled into the same or alternative applications. For example, off-cuts from the forming of cups from polystyrene sheet can be recycled into cups, or into cassette cases.

Pre-use plastic waste is likely to be the main source of plastics suitable for reprocessing from manufacturers of plastic products; in many instances off-cuts can be reprocessed in-house. It is typically more valuable than post-use plastics waste, as it generally requires little processing to use in a new product.

Pre-use plastics waste does not count towards plastics recycling targets under the Producer Responsibility (Packaging Waste) Regulations and you cannot claim PRNs or PERNS on this material.

Post-use plastic 

Post-use plastic waste suitable for recycling generally falls into one of five main categories:

  • Plastic bottles, pots, tubs and trays
  • Plastic film
  • Rigid plastics, such as crates, pipes and mouldings
  • Plastic foams, such as expanded polystyrene (EPS)
  • Flexible plastics, such as strapping and cable sheathing

Plastic bottles

Plastic bottles and pots, tubs and trays are found mainly in the household waste stream, however they may also be one of the main plastic applications suitable for recycling from SMEs.


Plastic film

Plastic film is a thin-gauge packaging used as a bag or wrap. Examples include plastic shopping bags, rubbish bags, bubble wrap, and plastic or stretch wrap.

Plastic films compose a broad category of materials that can be relatively simple or complex, depending on the demand of a particular product or package. It can be clear or coloured, printed or plain, single or multi-layered, thus the only thing that all plastic film really has in common is that it is flexible in nature.

The principal points where large quantities of recoverable film are generated are those business areas that involve handling and reshipping of products. Wholesale and distribution activities generate the vast majority of post-consumer commercial film wastes suitable for recovery.

Rigid plastics

Rigid plastics cover a large range of products, such as pipes, crates, expanded polystyrene packaging, mouldings, drums and other containers. These products are made from a variety of different polymer types and can come from almost any source, from hospitals and caterers to agriculture and large industry.

Plastic foams

Plastic foams are frequently used in packaging; the most common being expanded polystyrene (EPS). Major electrical and car manufacturers, such as Sony, Panasonic, Sanyo, Hitachi and Honda and leading electrical retailers like Dixons and PowerHouse, all have successful, cost-effective EPS recycling schemes.

Flexible plastics

Flexible plastics can include cable sheathing, strapping and other products. Again, these products are made from a variety of different polymer types and can come from a variety of sources.

Co Reg: 2435729 | VAT Reg No: 546 5837 10 | Reg Charity No: 1072029

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