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The Importance of Plastic

Plastic Containers

Plastics are modern, synthetic materials. Plastics are oil and gas based, and consume less than four per cent of our oil and gas reserves. The superior properties of plastics, such as their hygiene (clean or free from disease causing microorganisms), their fluid and air barrier capacities, and their light weight and durability contribute significantly to our health and quality of life. The tremendous growth of the plastics industry is expected to continue. The factors that have contributed to this growth include the energy efficiency of plastic. All studies show that it takes less energy to make a product from plastics than just about any other material. As plastics continue to demonstrate that they are a safe and reliable alternative to traditional materials, new applications will emerge.

Why are there so many different types of plastics?
The reason is that the actual type of plastic used is determined by the demands of the application. For example, if the plastic bottle needs to be squeezable, like a mustard bottle, then it’s going to be made of a different plastic from one that doesn’t need to be squeezable, like a milk jug.

All plastics are not created equal. Some seal in moisture or seal out air more effectively than others. Some are stronger, some lighter, some easier to work with, and some are more economical than other plastics to process. Each plastic type brings a unique blend of properties to the packaging design table and has been engineered to package a particular type of product. For example, PET plastic or "1" plastic, has been specially designed to help soft drinks remain carbonated. This plastic has been designed for an excellent gas and moisture barrier, making it the ideal choice for other applications as well, such as edible oils and salad dressings.

Recycling Plastics
The Department of Environmental Quality promotes recycling and works to develop markets for recyclables within the state. Recycling of all plastic bottles is strongly encouraged, primarily PET 1 and HDPE 2 bottles, because there are well-established end-markets for these types of plastics. Markets for recyclables are the key to recycling success. By building these new markets for other types of plastics, the ease of recycling for all types of plastic will be as available as those for HDPE 2.

Developing local businesses or markets for recyclables is key to successful long-term recycling in Montana. Establishing local markets for recycled materials is important for a number of reasons, including: reduced need to transport collected materials over long distances; reduced need to import raw materials and end products; expansion of the local manufacturing sector; creation of employment opportunities; preservation of natural resources; and expansion of the local tax base.

Why Is Recycling Plastics Important?
Recycling and reuse of plastics have the obvious benefit of decreasing the amount of used plastics that end up in landfills. With increased plastics recycling, fewer natural resources need to be extracted to produce virgin plastic. Producing new plastic from recycled material uses only two-thirds of the energy required to manufacture it from virgin raw materials. Five two-liter recycled PET bottles produce enough fiberfill to make a ski jacket; 36 recycled bottles can make one square yard of carpet.

In addition, a great amount of plastic waste is found in the world's oceans. "The world now uses 230 million pounds of plastic annually ... much of this is for one-trip packaging that is thrown out within a year of production, on average. Because the plastic that enters the ocean tends to fragment, it is likely to remain in the environment for hundreds, if not thousands, of years,” notes Richard Thompson, a researcher at Plymouth University, U.K., who has published two studies on plastics in oceans and the effect on marine animals.

How You Can Recycle Plastics

Recycle Your Plastics - This site is designed to offer an easy-to-use gateway for information on plastics recycling.

Visit Where To Recycle or go to to find out what kinds of plastics can be recycled in your area.

Follow these tips when Recycling Plastics

  • Rinse your bottles.
  • Remove caps from bottles. Caps are made from a different kind of plastic and contaminate the plastic.
    stomp your plastic bottles
  • Stomping your plastic bottles before placing the crushed bottles in the proper recycling bins will save your community money. So STOMP IT!
  • Check with your recycler to see what kinds of plastic the business handles and only put the kinds of plastics your recycler accepts in the bin. Also, unless your recycler asks for more than bottles, only place bottles in recycling containers.