Demystifying Plastics

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There’s a famous scene from the 1967 movie, The Graduate in which the young lead, Benjamin played by Dustin Hoffman is enlightened by his father’s friend, Mr. McGuire:

“I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.”

“Are you listening?”


“There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?”


Plastics have been in the news quite a bit lately.


In the food packaging business, we think about plastics quite a bit. And the word plastic (sometimes called “poly”) can mean a lot of different things. It can be referenced with a lot of different names and haunted by a whole list of acronyms.

So let’s take a look at some of the most common plastic / poly acronyms and some of the products that are made out of those compounds.

High-Density PolyEthylene

High-Density PolyEthylene (HDPE) has a high strength-to-density ratio, HDPE is commonly recycled, and the products produced from HDPE are often reusable. It is also harder and more opaque and can withstand somewhat higher temperatures than LDPE, Low-Density PolyEthylene.

Some products that are made from HDPE include:


White HDPE Poly CarryOut Bags with Die Cut Handle – 8.25 x 6 x 14″ #1A




White HDPE Poly CarryOut Bags with Die Cut Handle – 12 x 9 x 16″ #1




White HDPE Poly CarryOut Bags with Die Cut Handle – 14 x 10 x 14″ #2


HDPE Side-by-Side Plastic Shopping Bags with Rigid Handle – 19 x 10 x 12″ #5


HDPE Heavy Cake Plastic Shopping Bags with Rigid Handle – 14 x 10 x 14.75″ #3



HDPE Round Tray Plastic Shopping Bags with Rigid Handle – 18 x 17 x 18″ #4




LDPE is an acronym for Low-Density PolyEthylene. This type of plastic is weaker and has less tensile strength than HDPE. BUT — its resilience is higher, and its density is lower – so it can actually “stretch” and “flex” better than HDPE without cracking. LDPE is also more transparent than HDPE.



LLDPE is an acronym for Linear Low Density PolyEthylene. It is the most flexible of the plastic sheeting films. LLDPE is blended form of LDPE where the film has much more flexibility, is more pliable, and softer than HDPE. LLDPE is used for films that need a tremendous amount of strength to absorb impacts while not tearing or puncturing. In the event that a tear or puncture should occur, LLDPE is far less likely for the hole to run than tears or punctures in other polys. LLDPE bags provide extra strength and impact resistance that allows a lighter gauge bag to do the same job as a heavier gauge HDPE bag.


Polyethylene terephthalate is commonly abbreviated PETPETE. It is the most common thermoplastic polymer resin of the polyester family. PET is the number one recyclable plastic. It’s safe, non-toxic, strong and lightweight. PET is used to produce food trays that can be used for frozen dinners, since they withstand both freezing and (in some cases) moderate oven baking temperatures.

Some of the products that are made from PET include:


16 oz. Dart Conex Classic Clear Plastic Cups


Black Square Plastic Bowl – 24 oz.


Clear Square Plastic Bowl – 24 oz.



Green Square Plastic Bowl – 32 oz.


48 oz. WNA Caterline Pack n’ Serve PET Bowls



6 X 6 X 3-3/8 in. Clear Hinged PET Plastic Clamshell Container



Polypropylene (PP), also known as polypropene, is a thermoplastic polymer used in a wide variety of applications. It’s also sometimes referred to as “cello”

Products made from Polypropylene include:


Coffee Spoon, Clear Poly Food Bags – 1-3/4 x 4″


Bite Size, Clear Poly Food Bags – 3 x 4″


Large Pretzel Rod Clear Poly Food Bags – 4 X 11″


4 Lb., Heavy Duty Gusseted Clear Polypropylene Food Bags – 5-1/2 X 2-1/4 X 13″


6 Lb., Heavy Duty Gusseted Clear Polypropylene Food Bags – 5 X 3.25 X 14″



Poly(lactic acid) or polylactic acid or polylactide (PLA) is a biodegradable and bioactive thermoplastic aliphatic polyester derived from renewable resources, such as corn starch (in the United States and Canada), cassava roots, chips or starch (mostly in Asia), or sugarcane (in the rest of the world).

Some of our products that are manufactured using PLA include:


9 oz Compostable PLA Clear Cold Cups


Compostable PLA DOME LIDS with Hole Slot for 9 to 24 oz PLA Cold Drink Cups


Compostable PLA 8″ Jumbo STRAW – Individually Wrapped


16 oz. Round Compostable PLA Deli Containers


In most cases, you won’t need to know what all of the types of plastics and polys are. The Packaging Experts at are always here to guide you toward the product that will best suit your needs. But, at least now, you’ll know what all of those acronyms stand for.

Have a question about plastic food packaging products? Let our Packaging Advisors guide you through the process of selecting the right solution for you. Give them a call at 888-321-2248 Monday through Friday; 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST.

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