what plastic is this?

I’m a Barbie girl, in the Barbie world
Life in plastic, it’s fantastic!

“Barbie Girl” lyrics by Aqua, 1997

it really is a world of plastic in case we still haven’t noticed. but we still know so little about it. most of us would (at the most conscientious level) turn a plastic packaging around to look for the chasing arrows symbol (three arrows chasing each other in a supposed connotation of recyclability).

but just because a product carries that mark does not mean that it really does get recycled.

it’s like saying that i have a passport, technically i can travel the world. but if i don’t have the money, or an tinerary or a hotel to stay in, or as in more recent days, if there’s a global pandemic…i won’t be travelling soon!)

>> photo credit Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash <<

often we forget the product is made of plastic. or when we think of plastic, we think of some of the more obvious examples, like single-use plastic bags (it even has plastic in its name!).

as ancient wisdom puts it to us from across the wide chasm that humanity has created, first we must know whom we face. then we decide what to do about what we know.

so let us get to know the material that we have been talking about all of january (it’s my #Plastic month).

here’s an easy-to-use listing of the different types of plastic. feel free to use it with due credits to the image sources.


P.E.T (or if you want to get all technical, that’s polyethylene terephthalate), one of the most widely used and visible plastics. PET is so widely associated with plastic beverage bottles, that i’ve even heard regular users saying things like “let’s just buy a PET bottle“. wow.

usually PET bottles are picked up for recycling but many slip through the net and land up as…never-dying litter at public places. the next time you see one, throw it in a bin, atleast it’s easier for a rag-picker to find it (am talking about india of course, where the rag-picker/ informal waste-disposal system does what we ought to be doing i.e. getting rid of our waste in a better manner)

>>Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash <<

PE (Polyethylene) and its two main types the HDPE and the LDPE (high density/low density). They are used in such a wide variety of products that i could be downloading images all day. but for now, here are a few, and you will notice, most of these are in the consumer products space. HDPEs are also widely used in electrical products, wirings etc.

>> Photo by Mahbod Akhzami, Siora Photography and Mohd Aram on Unsplash<<

LDPE as the name suggests is low density so it’s used in products that do not need to be as durable as HDPE, so one of its most common usage is in single-use plastic bags.

>> photo: Photo by roberta errani on Unsplash <<

PVC (polyvinyl chloride) are most commonly seen in pipes.

>> Photo by Azka Rayhansyah on Unsplash <<

PP (Polypropylene) is used…well almost everywhere. infact, one reason for the widespread use of different types of plastic is precisely because these compounds are so flexible. that could be a life lesson – be flexible and everyone will want you. [ironic statement and ancient wisdom alert]. that’s the case with PP, it’s used everywhere, i mean everywhere.

>> Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash <<

PS (polysterene) or as it more popularly called…styrofoam. yup, those squeaky little billions of globules that come together to form packaging material or to make bento-pack boxes or throwaway coffee cups, all of that is PS

PC (polycarbonate) is mostly transparent and very strong, so that’s why it’s used, for instance on shields. or as transparent sheets for roofs

>> sigh i know, probably one of the lasting images of 2020. Photo by Martin Kopta on Unsplash <<

so that’s just a few of the common plastics we use, and by now it should be obvious that:

plastics are everywhere, our modern civilisation is highly dependent on different types of plastic.

which is why it is so difficult to imagine a world without plastics

the fact that plastics are so adaptable and flexible accounts for their high usage.

ever since its discovery we have effectively been replacing other materials with plastics

and plastics creates their own virtuous cycle, because ..

plastics are so cheap they are used in most products, which reduces the prices of those things, which increases their demand, which increases the production… of more plastics

oh and plastics are non biodegradable. the balloons from your first birthday party are still hanging around

what does that mean. how do we live with something that is so useful for us, and so harmful in the long run?

the only action i can suggest is figure out the intention of use.

any material, plastic or otherwise, that is intended to be used for a very short time and in highly fragmented individual use cases, is probably not worth the sacrifice. ask for an alternative. extend the use. recycle, or better still refuse.

be warned, it’s not easy to find alternatives, but you must always look for one. that’s another ancient wisdom.

Feature image: Photo by Adil Janbyrbayev on Unsplash