• Abdulrahman Muslihudeen

A Guide to The 7 Types of Plastics Used For Packaging

Updated: Sep 28



Plastic is a very important material in the packaging industry, and it comes in a variety of types. In fact, plastics are said to have so many types that it is said to be more than a thousand types.


But despite the numerous types of plastics out there, they are generally classified into 7 categories; 6 for different specific plastics, and one to include all other types.


These are:

  1. Polyethylene Terephthalate - PET or PETE

  2. High-Density Polyethylene - HDPE or PE-HD

  3. Polyvinyl Chloride - PVC or V

  4. Low-Density Polyethylene - LDPE or PE-LD

  5. Polypropylene - PP

  6. Polystyrene - PS

  7. Other or O

Now, let's break down all 7 types of plastic resins.


What is PET plastic – Polyethylene Terephthalate?


Also called PETE plastic, it is a type of plastic that is well loved and used in the packaging world. It is identified by Resin Identification Code 1. It is referred to as Polyester when used for fibers or fabrics; otherwise, it is known as PET or PETE.


Properties of Polyethylene Terephthalate


Polyethylene Terephthalate has several features and mentioning all of them is pretty difficult. Those features include the following:

  • It is a semi-crystalline plastic

  • It is colorless

  • It is resistant to water

  • It is a thermoplastic, but some variants are thermoset.

  • It is lightweight

  • It is a strong plastic resin

  • It resistants acid chemicals

  • It is transparent

  • It is resistant to creep

  • It is impermeable to CO2

  • It is shatterproof

  • It is resistant to cold

  • It possesses a high strength-to-weight ratio

  • It has a good adhesion ability

  • It has a good wielding ability

  • It has low sliding friction and sliding wear

  • It has high rigidity and hardness

  • It is resistant to moisture

  • It is cheap and readily available

  • It is malleable

  • It is an inert material that doesn’t react with food products

  • It resists attack by micro-organisms

  • It has good electrical insulation

Uses of PET plastic in packaging


PET is applied in packaging products in several ways; these include:

  • Water bottles

  • Soft drink bottles

  • Bakery trays

  • Fruit juice containers

  • Cookie trays

  • Cooking oil bottles

  • Butter containers

  • Vegetable oil bottles

  • Sports drinks bottles

  • Honey jars

  • Ice cube trays

  • Salad dressings packaging

  • Liquid hand soap bottle

  • Mouthwash bottles

  • Mineral water bottles

  • Personal care items packaging

  • Special-Grade PET plastic used for take-out containers

  • Special-Grade PET plastic used food trays that can be warmed in the oven or microwave

  • Household cleaners packaging

  • Soda bottles

  • Jelly containers

  • Peanut butter jars

  • Pickles jars

Is PET plastic safe?


Yes. It has been declared safe for food contact by FDA. But there is some concern among some scientists that when exposed to high temperatures, it may leak low concentrations of a chemical known as Antimony.


Recyclability of PET plastic


Irrespective of what you might have heard, PET is actually very recyclable. In fact, it is currently the most recycled plastic resin.


What is HDPE or PE-HD plastic – High-Density Polyethylene:


This is a tough, but lightweight plastic used to produce several important products that we use daily. It is identified by Resin Identification Code 2.



Properties of HDPE plastic


This plastic resin comes incredibly loaded with features; some of those include:

  • It is strong

  • It is lightweight

  • It resists impact

  • It lasts really long

  • It has resistance to weather

  • It has low transparency

  • It has little UV resistance

  • It is susceptible to mold shrinking

  • It has good electrical insulation

  • It is malleable

  • It is mold resistant

  • It is insect resistant

  • It is resistant to rot

  • It is a thermoplastic

  • It is a semi-crystalline plastic

  • It is susceptible to stress cracking

Uses of HDPE plastic in packaging


HDPE is widely used in packaging various products; some of those are:

  • Food

  • Beverages

  • Personal care products

  • Household products

  • Shampoo

  • Bread

  • Grocery

  • Laundry detergent

  • Milk

  • Water

  • Juice

  • Margarine

  • Cottage cheese

  • Cereal box Liners

  • Vinegar

  • Icecream

  • Cleaning agents

  • Bleaching agents

  • Washing and shower soaps

Is HDPE plastic safe?


It is approved as safe by FDA. But there is some concern that under certain conditions, it may release low levels of nonylphenol which may raise estrogen levels.


Recyclability of HDPE plastic


HDPE is a plastic resin that is easily recyclable.


What is PVC or V plastic – Polyvinyl chloride?


This is another widely used plastic, and it is identified by Resin Identification Code 3. It is likely known by many as the plastic pipe that brings in water to houses.



Properties of PVC


PVC has many properties; these include:

  • It is versatile

  • It is resistant to abrasion

  • It is strong

  • It is resistant to moisture

  • It does not corrode

  • It can be easily cleaned

  • It is resistant to environmental stress

  • It is resistant to water

  • It is durable

  • It has flame resistance due to the abundance of chlorine

  • Rigid PVC has an outstanding tensile strength

  • It is very dense

  • It is cheap

  • It is readily available.

  • It is resistant to chemicals

  • It has poor heat stability which is then countered by adding stabilizers during production.

  • It emits toxic fumes when it is being melted by fire.

  • It has excellent organoleptic properties

  • It has good electrical insulation

  • It has oxygen barrier properties

  • It has water barrier properties

  • It is a thermoplastic material

Uses of PVC in packaging


PVC has many applications in the packaging industry; some of those uses are:

  • It is used to make shrink wrap

  • It is used in blister packaging

  • It is used to package over-the-counter medications

  • Personal care products packaging

  • Medicine packaging

  • Household goods packaging

  • It is used to make a rigid film

  • It is used to make cling film

  • It is used to make plastic closures

  • Used for packaging disposable syringes

  • It is used to package medical devices

  • Batteries packaging

  • Packaging of electronic parts and accessories

  • Packaging of Tools

  • Toys packaging

  • It is used to package foodstuffs

  • Toiletries packaging

  • It is used to make bottle sleeves

  • It is used to make trays for sweets

  • Fruit packaging

  • It is used to make bubble foils

  • It is used to make food foils

Is PVC plastic safe?


It has been declared safe for food contact by FDA. But there is some concern that in certain conditions, it may leach some dangerous chemicals; hence, it is not the most preferred plastic resin for packaging food.


Recyclability of PVC plastic


PVC is well known to be recyclable.


What is LDPE or PE-LD plastic – Low-Density Polyethylene?


LDPE, also called PE-LD, is a lightweight plastic commonly used in the production of several products. It is identified by Resin Identification Code 4.



Properties of LDPE plastic


Like other plastic resins discussed so far, LDPE is also loaded with features. Some of these features include:

  • It is strong

  • It is waterproof

  • It is chemically resistant

  • It is tough

  • It is soft

  • It has resistance to corrosion

  • It is compatible with low-temperature.

  • It is tear resistant

  • It is transparent

  • It is thin

  • It is clear

  • It is impact resistant

  • It has poor resistance to halogenated hydrocarbons

  • It has a weak resistance to mineral oils and oxidizing agents

  • It has good electrical insulation

  • It is not useful in extremely high or low temperatures

  • It has little UV resistance

Uses of LDPE plastic in packaging


LDPE is used in packaging products in a variety of ways; these include:

  • It is used to make stretch films

  • It is used to make shrink wraps

  • Squeezable bottles

  • Thin container lids

  • Fruit bags

  • Frozen food packaging

  • Grocery bags

  • Coating for paper milk cartons

  • Bread bags

  • Fresh produce bags

  • Newspaper bags

  • Plastic bags

Is LDPE plastic safe?


Yes. It has been declared safe for food contact by FDA.


Recyclability of LDPE plastic


LDPE plastics are recyclable, but recycling companies tend to prefer the rigid form of LDPE. The flexible form of LDPE can be complex to recycle.


What is Polypropylene - PP plastic?


Also referred to as PP, this incredibly useful and versatile plastic is said to be like a superhero among other plastic resins. It is identified by Resin Identification Code 5.



Properties of Polypropylene


Polypropylene is incredibly versatile; that can only be possible if it has several useful features that manufacturers are looking for. Some of its features include:

  • It is translucent

  • It is cheap

  • It is elastic

  • It is tough

  • It is chemically resistant

  • It is fatigue resistant

  • It is a very good insulator

  • It is normally opaque, but can also be made to be transparent

  • It doesn't react with water

  • It doesn’t react with acids

  • It doesn't react with detergents

  • It is crack resistant

  • It has good electrical insulation

  • It is stress resistant

  • It withstands wear and tear

  • It has a relatively slippery surface

  • It is susceptible to UV degradation

  • It is difficult to paint due to its poor bonding properties

  • It is highly flammable

  • It has poor resistance to chlorinated solvents and aromatics

Uses of Polypropylene in packaging


Polypropylene is incredibly useful in packaging various products. Some of the products that it is used to package are:

  • Yogurt

  • Baby food

  • Medicine

  • Maple syrup

  • Cream cheese

  • Chips

  • Salad dressing

  • Margarine

Is Polypropylene safe?


Referred to as superhero plastic, it has been declared safe for food contact by FDA.


Recyclability of Polypropylene


What is the purpose of being a superhero plastic without the ability to be recycled? So of course, Polypropylene is recyclable.


What is Polystyrene - PS plastic?


Also referred to as PS plastic, Polystyrene is a very useful plastic resin used to make a wide variety of products. It is identified by resin identification code 6.



Properties of Polystyrene


Like others, Polystyrene will not allow itself to be outdone by its close family of plastic resins. Some of its features are:

  • It is clear

  • It is rigid

  • It is brittle

  • It has low heat resistance

  • It has good electrical insulation

  • It is inert

  • It is flammable

  • It is soluble in chlorine and aromatic solvents

  • It has good dimensional stability

  • It has good dielectric strength

  • It is amorphous in nature

  • It is malleable

Uses of Polystyrene in packaging


Polystyrene is also widely used in packaging. Some of its applications in packaging are:

  • TV packaging

  • CD packaging

  • Egg cartons

  • Disposable coffee cups

  • Bakery trays

  • Meat packaging

  • Take-out containers

  • Styrofoam packing peanuts for shipping

  • Cosmetic bags

  • Refrigerator trays

Is Polystyrene safe?


It is approved by FDA by food contact, but there is concern that it can leach low levels of Styrene after a long period of time. The levels released though are very minute and fall way below the FDA-approved limit.


Recyclability of Polystyrene


It is recyclable, but it is not a preferred option for recycling; hence, most recycling centers don’t accept it.


What are Other or O plastics?


This refers to all other plastic resins after the 6 described resins. They are identified by Resin Identification Code 7.




These may include plastics such as:

  • Polycarbonate PC - 7

  • Polyamide Nylon

  • Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene ABS

  • Polyoxymethylene POM

  • Polyetherimide PEI

  • Fiberglass

  • Acrylic

  • Polylactic Acid - PLA plastic

  • Melamine

Features of Other or O plastics?


These plastics have varying features, so you will have to identify which one you need to understand its features.


Uses of Other or O plastics in packaging


These plastics all have their own varying applications.


Are Other or O plastics safe?


They are generally approved by FDA; but, you will have to be careful with this category since you don’t know what plastic was used. Some are less toxic than others, while others can be toxic. The ambiguity is what makes this category unwelcome amongst many.


Recyclability of Other or O plastics?


Some of them are recyclable, while some are not. You have to check the recyclability of the specific resin that you need.


Similarities of the plastic resins:

  1. All packaging materials (glass, plastic, metal, paper, etc) contain substances that can leach in tiny amounts into food or beverages.

  2. All plastic resins 1-6 are thermoplastics.

  3. All plastic resins 1-6 are malleable (except the solid form of Polystyrene which is a hard and solid plastic).

  4. All plastic resins 1-6 are relatively cheap compared to other packaging materials.

  5. All plastic resins 1-6 are chemically inert.

  6. All plastic resins 1-6 are good insulators.