High Density Polyethylene (HDPE, #2)

HDPE refers to plastic used to make bottles for milk, juice, water, and laundry products. Unpigmented HDPE bottles are translucent and have good barrier properties and stiffness.

Other properties of HDPE include:

  • Excellent toughness
  • Good tear and burst strength
  • Excellent chemical resistance
  • Translucence to opaqueness
  • Low heat resistance
  • Low price
  • Easy processing

Typical End Uses

Used in nonstructural applications including rigid plastic packaging containers and a variety of molded products. Examples include milk jugs, juice bottles, film (trash bags, agricultural film, T-shirts, bags), trash cans, and toys. (American Plastics Council, adapted from Modern Plastics Encyclopedia, 1995)

This resin is well suited to packaging products, such as milk, with short shelf lives. Pigmented HDPE bottles generally have better stress crack and chemical resistance than bottles made with unpigmented HDPE. These properties are needed for packaging such items as household chemicals and detergents, which have a longer shelf life. Injection-molded HDPE is resistant to warpage and distortion. It is used for products such as margarine tubs and yogurt containers. (“Plastic Packaging Opportunities and Challenges,” American Plastics Council, February 1992).


In 1997, 12.6 billion pounds of virgin HDPE resin were produced in the U.S. In March 1996, Franklin & Associates estimated for EPA the amount of HDPE in products discarded in the municipal waste stream at 3.5 million tons for 1994. Franklin also estimated that 0.35 million tons of HDPE were recycled in the U.S. in 1994.

Estimates of California HDPE bottle generation (generation = disposal + recovery) (taken from the Society of Plastics Industries (SPI) and factored to California (using a factor of 10 percent of U.S. total) indicate that about 200,000 tons of HDPE rigid containers were generated in California in 1996. HDPE recovery estimates (from the CIWMB’s Rigid Plastic Packaging Container Program, 1997) indicate that about 34,000 tons of HDPE were recovered from the waste stream in 1996, the latest year for which estimates are available.


Estimates are not available for the amount of HDPE post-consumer resin (PCR) used as manufacturing feedstock in California. In general, recycled polyethylene could be used in the manufacture of the following commodities:

  • Bottles, caps
  • Packaging, film, bags
  • Cable jacketing, pipe
  • Toys
  • Typewriter ribbons
  • Disposable housewares
  • General commodity items
  • Irrigation and plumbing pipes and joints

CalRecycle maintains a recycled-content product database, which provides company names (manufacturers, distributors, etc.) for selected household and industrial products.


For more information contact: Business Assistance, bzassist@calrecycle.ca.gov.