Plastic Recycling Numbers: What Do They Mean?

We have all seen the recycling numbers on the bottom of our plastic bottles, but few people actually know what those number mean. Here is a description for each plastic recycling symbol and what each plastic is used for.

Number One Plastics

If you see a recycling symbol with a number one and either PET or PETE, it stands for polyethylene terephthalate. The number one bottles have the lowest risk of leaching into the products.

You will found this number on bottles of water, soft drinks, plastic beer bottles, peanut butter containers, salad dressings, vegetable oil, mouthwash and food trays suitable for oven baking.

These types of bottles are typically accepted through most city curb-side recycling programs.

Recycled number one bottles may be turned into polar fleece, athletic shoes, tote bags, fiber, furniture, carpet, straps, paneling and occasionally new containers.

Number Two Plastics

Number two plastics have the number two in the recycling symbol and HDPE which means high density polyethylene.

Number two plastics are found in containers of milk, juice, butter, yogurt, cereal box liners, shampoos, bleach, household cleaners, motor oil and some trash and shopping bags.

Most curb-side recycling programs allow number two plastics. Some recycling programs only allow containers which have necks, so check with your city’s recycling program.

Number two plastics may be recycled into recycling containers, laundry detergent bottles, oil bottles, pens, picnic tables, fencing, benches, dog houses, floor tile, drainage pipe and lumber.

Number two plastics have a low risk of leaching into the products.

Number 3 Plastics

Number three plastics have the number three in the recycling symbol and V (Vinyl) or PVC.

Number three plastics are found in containers of window cleaners, detergent bottles, shampoos, cooking oil, clear food packaging, medical equipment, wire jacketing, piping and siding.

Number three plastics are rarely recycled. Sometimes they are accepted by some plastic lumber makers who turn them into paneling, decks, mud flaps, flooring, cables, speed bumps and mats.

Number three PVC plastics contain chlorine. Never burn PVC because it releases dangerous toxins. Do not use number three plastics to cook with or allow heated number three plastic to touch food.

Number 4 Plastics

Number four plastics have the number four in the recycling symbol and LDPE which stands for low density polyethylene.

Number four plastics are used for squeezable bottles, bread bags, frozen food containers, shopping bags, dry cleaning bags, tote bags, carpet, furniture and clothing.

Number four plastics are not usually accepted through curbside recycling programs. Some stores now have programs to recycle plastic shopping bags.

Number four plastics may be turned into shipping envelopes, trash cans, compost bins, floor tile, paneling, lumber and landscaping ties

Number 5 Plastics

Number five plastics have a five in the recycling symbol and PP which stands for polypropylene. It is used for Tupperware containers, yogurt containers, ketchup bottles, syrup bottles, medicine bottles, caps, and straws.

Number five plastics can be recycled through some curbside programs. Check with your local recycling program.

Number five plastics may be turned into brooms, rakes, ice scrapers, signal lights, battery cables, brushes, auto battery cases, landscape borders, bicycle racks, bins, trays and pallets.

Number 6 Plastics

Number six plastics have the number six in the recycling symbol and PS which stands for polystyrene. Polystyrene is often turned into what we all know as Styrofoam.

Number six plastics can be found in packing peanuts, compact disc cases, disposable plates and cups, egg cartons, meat trays, carry-out containers, and aspirin bottles.

Some curbside recycling programs will accept number six plastics. Check with your local recycling program.

Number six plastics may be recycled into carry-out containers, egg cartons, insulation, light switch plates, vents, foam packing and rulers.

Number 7 Plastics

Number seven plastics have the number seven in the recycling symbol along with “Other” or “Miscellaneous”. It is often used in three and five-gallon water bottles, baby bottles, certain food containers, sunglasses, DVDs, iPod cases, computer cases, signs, displays, bullet-proof material and nylon

In the past most curbside recycling programs have not accepted number 7 plastics. Some programs have just recently started to accept them.

Recent studies have shown polycarbonate can leach into food as it ages or is heated. Many manufacturers have stopped using polycarbonate in baby products because of the potential health risks.

“What Do Recycling Symbols on Plastics Mean? A Guide to Recycling Codes” by Brian Clark Howard, The Daily Green, March 31, 2008

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