Product Design

Thinking Outside the Bin

Using Today’s Plastic Products to Meet Tomorrow’s Needs: Six Success Stories

NOVEMBER 19, 2020 - What do a takeout container, plastic bag, yogurt cup, milk jug, shampoo bottle and water bottle all have in common? These six items, traditionally viewed as “single-use” plastics, are being recycled into new products.

From the Dinner Table to the Airport

Polypropylene (PP, #5), one of the plastics commonly used in takeout containers, has a lot more to do with travel than you might expect. Today’s suitcases are often made of plastic because the material is lightweight, waterproof and durable, making it well-suited to stand up to the rigors of travel. Seeing reused plastic as a valuable resource, companies like Samsonite are transforming plastic waste into suitcases.

From Recycling to Relaxation

Recycled high-density polyethylene (HDPE, #2) plastic makes a durable, affordable and long-lasting alternative to wood for outdoor furniture. Companies like Belson and POLYWOOD manufacture Adirondack chairs from used plastic products such as bags and milk jugs.

Brushing Away Plastic Waste

In a drive to be more sustainable and encourage recycling, consumer goods companies are turning to used polypropylene (PP, #5) plastic — like yogurt cups — and repurposing it to make everyday necessities, including toothbrushes. Reusing recycled plastic from something like a yogurt cup to produce a toothbrush not only lowers the amount of plastic waste in the environment, it extends the useful life of plastic.

From Dairy to Detergent

Have milk in your refrigerator? Probably. Got laundry detergent? Certainly. What’s the connection? The containers — they’re both made of the same plastic (HDPE, #2). Thanks to recycling, turning used milk jugs into laundry detergent bottles is not only possible, it’s happening now. It’s time to rethink plastic, in its many forms, to move from single use to reuse. Even that simple milk jug in your refrigerator is a durable and valuable resource to be reused, not thrown away. Don’t forget to snap the cap back on before you toss it in the bin.

Sliding into the Future

When you took a shower this morning, did you think about your shampoo bottle’s future? Not likely. And have you thought much about what the neighborhood playground equipment is made of? Probably not. Surprisingly, both the bottle and the playground equipment can be made from the same plastic. Companies use recycled high-density polyethylene (HDPE, #2)—the plastic used to make containers for milk, shampoo, soap and detergent—to manufacture playground equipment.

From Waste to Wearables

Next time you hand out the water bottles at your kids’ soccer game, stop and think. Those plastic bottles are meant to be recycled and reused many times over. Think of all the things they could be if they weren’t thrown away after one use as a bottle.

Today, plastic bottles are being recycled and converted into lots of new products, such as new bottles, or fabrics for the fashion industry. The plastic water bottle that keeps you cool today can become part of a jacket to keep you warm for years.

Take Action

It’s inspiring to see products we use every day recycled and repurposed, giving them much longer and more useful lives as entirely new products. One day, you could be drinking a bottle of water. The next day, you could be wearing a jacket made from the same kind of bottle.

By recycling according to your community’s guidelines, you can treat plastic as a valuable resource and help create a more circular economy. Check out other articles like Overcoming “Bin-decision” to learn more about how you can recycle properly.

Continue to visit America’s Plastic Makers: Making Sustainable ChangeSM to learn more about how communities, companies and brands are turning used plastics into valuable resources to make new products.


High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE):  High-density polyethylene, also known as HDPE, is a strong and durable plastic used to make common items like jugs and bottles for short-term storage. Its toughness makes it difficult to tear and helps it resist bursting. Recycled HDPE plastic is used to make many products such as toys, soda bottles, trash cans, traffic cones and plastic “lumber” for playgrounds, decks and outdoor furniture. To determine if a container is made from HDPE, look for a number 2 inside the three-arrow recycling symbol.

Low-density polyethylene (LDPE):  Low-density polyethylene (LDPE, #4) is a soft, flexible, lightweight plastic material. It’s used to make a wide variety of items, most commonly packaging and plastic bags.

Polypropylene:  Polypropylene, also known as PP or by the recycling #5, is a food-safe plastic. It’s used to hold all kinds of foods, beverages and medications. It can also be used to make carpeting, roof membranes and fabric.

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