Family in their home with HDPE plastic products such as the toolbox

Polyethylene in Everyday Life: Common HDPE Plastic Products

From food storage to piping systems, high-density polyethylene (HDPE) is a versatile and popular plastic.

By Shell Polymers on Jan 22, 2021

Leveraging HDPE in applications ensures a stronger, more resistant product that is also abrasion-and chemical-resistant. So when the job calls for a part that needs to be strong, flexible, and produced quickly, HDPE may be the perfect solution.

Even though HDPE shows up in many everyday items, people are rarely aware of what those products are, and most importantly, why HDPE was chosen for the job. Here’s a brief walkthrough of some everyday HDPE Plastic products that consumers engage with.

Six Areas to Find Everyday HDPE Plastic Products

1. Bathroom Items

You’ve probably looked at what your favorite cosmetic or beauty product is made with. But, have you ever looked at what it’s kept in? While consumers may not view it nearly as important as its contents, cosmetic or beauty packaging plays a critical role in providing a positive experience.

For example, a survey by WePack revealed that 17% of people ignore or don’t check expiration dates on cosmetics. Beyond that, 17% reported continuing to use the product until it appears ‘off’.1 Brand owners can combat this behavior by using a packaging material that better protects the contents. For products with solvents like alcohol and surfactants, HDPE is resistant to those chemicals, protecting the container from corroding and leaking. Unlike glass, plastic containers made from HDPE applications are more durable, making the trip down the assembly line to the consumer’s cabinet smoother and less likely to break and waste. Its opaque appearance can also protect the contents from UV light that would pass through the container, which can degrade the product and decrease shelf life.2

Unlike glass, plastic containers made from HDPE are more durable, making the trip down the assembly line to the consumer's cabinet smoother and less likely to break and waste.

Due to the protection it provides against corrosion from chemicals and outside contaminants, HDPE makes an excellent plastic packaging choice for cosmetics. Additionally, HDPE is the preferred material of choice for personal care product packaging because of its high rigidity, long shelf life, and reliable barrier properties.3

The use of HDPE in self care is starting to break barriers into other applications. For example, toothpaste tubes have traditionally been a layer of aluminum sandwiched between the laminated layers of plastic. Now, Colgate is set to launch a fully recyclable HDPE toothpaste tube by 2025. It overcomes the rigidity of HDPE plastic by using different grades of HDPE in the design.4

Available in rigid or flexible varieties, HDPE containers often protect everyday beauty products such as face washes, shampoos, conditioners, and lotions from outside contaminants, leaks, and more to give it a long shelf life. Over-the-counter medicine bottles are also housed in HDPE bottles for reasons similar to cosmetic products. 

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2. Laundry Care Products

Chemicals play an active role in helping us keep our living conditions hygienic. From soaps to washing detergents to air fresheners, we use a wide variety of chemical compounds in our homes on a daily basis. To effectively do their job, those products need to be stored in durable containers that prevent leaks and unintentional spills or breakage, while withstanding constant exposure to the chemicals inside without corroding.

American Cleaning Institute Director of Sustainability, Melissa Grande supports this in an interview with PlasticsToday, saying, “Product packaging is essential to the safe transportation and storage of products. A package is needed to protect the contents inside over a long period of time and provide safety to the user. Plastic has often been a preferred material due to its ability to withstand degradation from the chemicals within.”5

Polymer experts looking at simulated mock ups of HDPE plastic products
HDPE is ideal for containers for household cleaning chemical products such as laundry detergent, fabric softener, and bleach.

Known for its chemical resistance, HDPE withstands exposure to a wide variety of chemicals without corroding. This makes it ideal for household cleaning chemicals such as laundry detergent, fabric softener, bleach, and other cleaning products. Compared to other materials, which can sometimes be prone to being attacked and disfigured by aggressive chemicals.6

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3. Pantry Dry Goods

According to the FDA, HDPE is an approved food-safe material7. As a result, you can find HDPE in a variety of areas in your kitchen cabinet. For example, because of its stiffness, HDPE is often used to make your everyday cereal liner or snack liners. This is because it’s strong enough to stand up on its own, but flexible enough to keep your food fresher, longer. It’s also moisture resistant, so it protects whatever it’s covering against possible leaks from surrounding items.

Some brands like Argo, sell their dry goods products in HDPE containers, making it a 100% recyclable container product.8 HDPE is also commonly used in non-perishable food applications to hold common products like vinegar and chocolate syrup.9 Branching outside of the realm of non-perishable food, HDPE is also used to make trash bags due to its strength and puncture resistance.

4. Fridge and Freezer Foods

HDPE is the primary material for dairy containers such as the gallon jug of milk in your fridge. This is because of its impact resistance and inexpensive production, which makes it easy for dairy producers to package and protect their product from store to home. Compared to the traditional glass and paper alternatives, an HDPE milk jug can be dented in transit and still offer consumers a quality product when pulled off the shelf. Juices tend to be packaged in HDPE containers for similar reasons to its dairy counterpart.

The latest development in PE film converting, multi-layer plastic film is present in a variety of items in most people’s fridge or freezer. For example, if you bought a fresh block of cheese lately, it’s very likely that the film wrap covering it has an HDPE barrier layer to protect the cheese from outside moisture.

Multi-layer plastic film is present in a variety of items in most people's fridge and freezer.

Frozen food products, such as a bag of frozen peas, often have HDPE in its packaging. Bizongo shares that, “Different types of plastics like HDPE, LDPE, Polypropylene, etc. are used for making frozen food packaging. This includes shrink wraps, rigid and flexible packaging, and also at times single-use disposable packaging. Plastic is desirable because it can withstand a wide range of temperature and provides insulation to the products from the outer environment.”10

5. Garage Items

As mentioned in previous sections, one of HDPE’s standout properties is its ability to withstand exposure to chemicals without corroding. This makes it useful in applications that require chemicals. Because of this, HDPE containers are an ideal choice to hold everyday automotive maintenance chemicals such as antifreeze, coolant, or gasoline.

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HDPE bottles also promote household container safety by preventing leaks and withstanding temperatures of up to 248 degrees Fahrenheit for a short time or 230 degrees for longer periods. So, materials kept in an area like a garage, where the temperature is fluctuating, are safer in an HDPE container.

If you’ve got any future (or current) athletes in your household, HDPE is also present in some variations of sports protection equipment. For example, shoulder pads can be made of a soft polyethylene foam and a hard polyethylene shell. The shell is typically made of HDPE because that variation has no branching, making it more dense, and therefore, strong enough to absorb impact.11 Some variations of water sports equipment can also include an element of HDPE.

6. Outdoor Decor

HDPE is a moisture-resistant material that can withstand a wide range of temperatures and has a higher tensile strength. Because of this, any furniture designed to be in yards, on patios, or attached to the outside of a house would benefit from the protection that HDPE provides.12 Polyethylene is also resistant to chemicals, so it’s easily cleaned by standard cleaning chemicals (that are also in HDPE containers!) in between uses without corroding delicate details.

It’s also a recyclable material, so some manufacturers have been able to use recycled HDPE from milk jugs or detergent bottles to create HDPE outdoor furniture.13 As an added bonus for homeowners, HDPE outdoor furniture or yard decor is virtually maintenance free because it’s so durable, despite being subject to the weather.14

A child walking on blades of artificial grass, which are an HDPE plastic product
Artificial turf can be made of HDPE because it can withstand high temperatures and people walking on it.

If you’re looking to reduce lawn care by switching to artificial grass or turf, those blades can be made of HDPE. This is partially because of its ability to withstand high temperatures and people walking on it.

HDPE’s chemical resistance, cost-effectiveness, enhanced durability, and wide availability make it a great choice for plastic converters, brand owners, and consumers alike. As the focus on hygiene and product longevity grows, HDPE’s popularity will also grow with it as it makes a material for a variety of everyday household applications.

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1 https://www.we-pack.co.uk/advice-centre/research/how-packaging-can-be-the-rise-or-fall-of-a-cosmetic-brands-success

2 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780444826541500144

3 https://www.beroeinc.com/article/pet-hdpe-cost-savings/

4 https://www.plasticstoday.com/packaging/colgates-fully-recyclable-toothpaste-tube-first-receive-apr-recognition

5 https://www.plasticstoday.com/packaging/cleaner-and-greener-cleaning-products-sustainability-and-packaging

6 https://www.we-pack.co.uk/advice-centre/research/how-packaging-can-be-the-rise-or-fall-of-a-cosmetic-brands-success

7 https://www.chemicalsafetyfacts.org/types-plastic-food-packaging-safety-close-look/

8 https://www.argostarch.com/products.html

9 https://www.chemicalsafetyfacts.org/types-plastic-food-packaging-safety-close-look/

10 https://bizongo.com/blog/frozen-food-packaging/#What_Are_the_Suitable_Frozen_Food_Packaging_Materials

11 https://www.futurelearn.com/info/courses/everyday-chemistry/0/steps/22346

12 https://www.patioproductions.com/blog/news/hdpe-vs-pvc-wicker/

13 https://www.usaoutdoorfurniture.com/plastic-lumber-hdpe

14 https://www.parknpool.com/hdpe-resin-furniture/hdpe-resin-furniture.php