The Difference Between Single-Use Plastic And Reusable Plastic

Plastic is one of the most versatile materials ever invented. It can used to make thousands of different products, ranging from spacecraft components and car parts through to shopping bags and plastic straws.

The reason for plastic’s versatility is that there are many forms available, with different chemical compositions and physical properties. It’s easy for businesses to choose a form of plastic that perfectly matches their product or product packaging requirements.

One of the most significant difference between the various forms of plastic is a product’s ability to be re-used. ‘Single use’ plastics cannot be reused or recycled very easily, while ‘reusable’ plastic can be. The distinction is important for product manufacturers because it determines the environmental impact of a product and its packaging.

In this post, I’ll explain what plastic is before sharing more details on the difference between single use plastic and reusable plastic. I’ll also share the benefits of working with a packaging design agency, who can help you choose which kinds of plastic to use.

To learn more about the kinds of plastics that are available you can contact a leading creative packaging company in the UK, and see what they recommend for your industry. You can also read on to learn more about the difference between single use plastic and reusable plastic.

What Are Plastics?

Plastic refers to a range of synthetic or semi-synthetic organic compounds that can be moulded into objects. Most plastics are derived from the organic polymers found in petrochemicals, however, there are also renewable plastics, which are made from compounds found in corn or cotton.

Plastic is extremely cheap to make, can be used in many ways, and is impervious to water. These characteristics have made it one of the most popular choices for product packaging in the UK. There are several types of plastic available, including:

Polyethylene (PE)
Polyethylene is the most common form of plastic produced today. It is can be produced with different densities, which provide unique physical properties:

  • Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
    LDPE has an extreme level of plasticity. It is often used to make disposable packaging, shopping bags, cling wrap, frozen food bags, and food containers. Many single use plastic products are made from LDPE.
  • Medium-Density Polyethylene (MDPE)
    MDPE contains more polymerchains which gives it greater density and less plasticity compared to LDPE. It is often used for gas pipes, plastic fittings, shrink film, carriers bags, and screw enclosures.
  • High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
    HDPE is fairly rigid and used in a wide variety of products including water pipes, plastic bottles, milk containers, food jars, detergent bottles, water containers, boats, and folding chairs. It is often used as packaging plastic in the UK.
  • Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE)
    UHMWPE is only slightly denser than HDPE, but it has excellent abrasion resistance and low friction because of its long Common applications for UHMWPE include protective body armour, biomaterial for medical implants (knees, hips and other joints), and hydraulic seals and bearings.

Polypropylene (PP)

Polypropylene is the world’s second most-common plastic.  It is a thermoplastic polymer that is stronger than PE, but still retains its flexibility. It is durable, affordable, and doesn’t crack. PP is often used to make auto parts, scientific equipment, and food containers.

Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE or PET)

This is common synthetic plastic that is often used to make food and drink containers, clothing fibres, shampoo containers, product packaging, and food trays. It is virtually shatterproof and easily recycled. PET is easily recycled and can be reused. 

Acrylic or Polymethyl Methacrylate (PMMA)

This is a transparent thermoplastic that is lightweight and shatter-resistant. It can be made coloured, abrasion-resistant, UV-tolerant, and bullet-resistant. PMMA is often used in place of glass.

Polycarbonate (PC)

Polycarbonate is stable, durable, and can be easily moulded. It possesses inherent design flexibility, which is why it is used by so many manufacturers. You will find PC used to make everything from DVDs and sunglasses through to police riot gear.

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

PVC is a synthetic plastic polymer which can be rigid or flexible. It is often used for cladding, doors, non-food packaging, windows and more. If additionalplasticisers are added, it can be used for medical tubing, electrical insulation, clothing, and other products.

How Are Single Use Plastics And Reusable Plastics Different?

Single use plastics are designed to be used once, then discarded. They are typically cheaply made plastics that can be produced in bulk for a few cents per item. Common single use plastic products include items like drinking straws, plastic shopping bags, plastic cutlery, plastic cups, and product packaging.

Businesses often use single use plastics because they much cheaper to manufacture than other materials, reducing the cost of their products for consumers. Single use items like plastic shopping bags are also convenient and reduce the number of trees that are cut down each year to produce paper packaging.

Single use products are sometimes designed in a way that makes re-use impossible or very difficult. The most obvious example would be takeaway coffee cups, which are made from cardboard and a thin layer of polypropylene film. It is very difficult to separate the plastic from the cardboard, which makes recycling extremely difficult. The product is designed to be used once, then discarded.

Reusable plastics are designed to be used multiple times. They are typically more stable and durable than single use plastic products, which helps them remain functional for a long time. These kinds of items include plastic drinking bottles, multi-purpose packaging, sporting items, signs, and clothing.

Plastics that are easily recycled are also often referred to as reusable plastic products. These items typically have long polymer chains, which means they can be used to create other types of plastic products.

Reusable plastic items are also designed to be ‘easily’ recycled. So they are usually simple to disassemble, clearly marked as recyclable, and don’t have additives (colours, glues or chemicals) which interfere with the recycling process.

Which Plastics Should You Use?

Businesses need to decide which types of plastics are most appropriate for their products and product packaging. It can be a difficult decision because you must balance several considerations including cost, environmental impact, convenience, branding, and consumer perceptions.

A packaging design agency can help you understand the types of plastics that are available and how they can be used.

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