Polypropylene (PP), otherwise known as plastic #5, was created in 1957 as a cheap alternative to polyethylene. In 1999, polypropylene accounted for only 2% of all plastic bottles in the United States. Bottles aside, a lot of our food containers are made from plastic #5, including those at Whole Foods. In fact, this is the most common plastic I run into that isn’t in bottle form…just check out the photo below.

What is it made of?
Polypropylene is a thermoplastic polymer, and its molecular formula is (-CHCH3-CH2-)n. It’s tough, strong, and resistant to grease.

What is it used for?
Polypropylene can be found in food containers, packaging, plant pots, medicine cups, margarine tubs, Moe’s cups, caps, straws, toys, ropes, clothes, and various bottles.

Can it be recycled locally?
No! Unfortunately, plastic #5 cannot be recycled in the Lowcountry. Hopefully this will change soon – we’ve heard rumors and rumblings from both Charleston and Dorchester counties. In the mean time, try to avoid them when you can – and reuse them when you can’t. Feel free to call your local recycling office (links to the right) and let them know you’d like to have polypropylene recycling.

What does it look like?
Polypropylene can be either translucent or opaque, and is extremely tough. It’s typically flexible, waterproof, and can’t be shattered like harder plastics. Here is what I collected over a couple weeks:

Why is this important?
Once plastic is created, it’s going to be around for a long time. I guess the best way to keep polypropylene out of the landfill (polypropylene is not recyclable in most areas) is to avoid products using it as packaging. Recycling programs need to be broadened to include all plastic resins so polypropylene can be reclaimed to make things like cables, brooms, lights, tools, brushes, ice scrapers, bicycle racks, bins, and trays. Sounds boring, but hey – reducing our impact in every way possible is the only real path to a sustainable future. We’ve got to use less, and recycle more.

Want to learn more?
I found this great page at the University of Southern Mississippi. Both Wikipedia and Earth Odyssey have good info.

Previously on Go Green:

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