Do You Know What the Numbers on Plastic Containers Mean?

The Daily Green offers this handy guide on the various types of plastic:

Number 1 Plastics — PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate)

Recycle Number on Plastic Bottle

Photo by Ali Farad

  • Found In: Soft drinks,
    water and beer bottles; mouthwash bottles; peanut butter containers;salad dressing and vegetable oil containers; ovenable food trays.
  • Recycling: Pick up through most curbside recycling programs.
  • Recycled Into: Polar fleece, fiber, tote bags, furniture, carpet, paneling, straps, (occasionally) new containers

It poses low risk of leaching breakdown products. Recycling ratesremain relatively low (around 20 percent), though the material is inhigh demand by re-manufacturers.

Number 2 Plastics — HDPE (high density polyethylene)

  • Found In: Milk jugs, juicebottles; bleach, detergent and household cleaner bottles; shampoo
    bottles; some trash and shopping bags; motor oil bottles; butter andyogurt tubs; cereal box liners
  • Recycling: Pick up through most curbside recycling programs, although some only allow those containers with necks.
  • Recycled Into: Laundrydetergent bottles, oil bottles, pens, recycling containers, floor tile,
    drainage pipe, lumber, benches, doghouses, picnic tables, fencing

HDPE carries low risk of leaching and is readily recyclable into many goods.

Number 3 Plastics — V (Vinyl) or PVC

  • Found In: Window cleanerand detergent bottles, shampoo bottles, cooking oil bottles, clear food
    packaging, wire jacketing, medical equipment, siding, windows, piping
  • Recycling: Rarely recycled; accepted by some plastic lumber makers.
  • Recycled Into: Decks, paneling, mudflaps, roadway gutters, flooring, cables, speed bumps, mats

PVC contains chlorine, so its manufacture can release highlydangerous dioxins. If you must cook with PVC, don’t let the plastictouch food. Never burn PVC, because it releases toxins.

Number 4 Plastics — LDPE (low density polyethylene)

  • Found In: Squeezable bottles; bread, frozen food, dry cleaning and shopping bags; tote bags; clothing; furniture; carpet
  • Recycling: LDPE is notoften recycled through curbside programs, but some communities will
    accept it. Plastic shopping bags can be returned to many stores forrecycling.
  • Recycled Into: Trash can liners and cans, compost bins, shipping envelopes, paneling, lumber, landscaping ties, floor tile

Historically, LDPE has not been accepted through most Americancurbside recycling programs, but more and more communities are startingto accept it.

Number 5 Plastics — PP (polypropylene)

  • Found In: Some yogurt containers, syrup bottles, ketchup bottles, caps, straws, medicine bottles
  • Recycling: Number 5 plastics can be recycled through some curbside programs.
  • Recycled Into: Signallights, battery cables, brooms, brushes, auto battery cases, icescrapers, landscape borders, bicycle racks, rakes, bins, pallets, trays

Polypropylene has a high melting point, and so is often chosen forcontainers that must accept hot liquid. It is gradually becoming moreaccepted by recyclers.

Number 6 Plastics — PS (polystyrene)

  • Found In: Disposable plates and cups, meat trays, egg cartons, carry-out containers, aspirin bottles, compact disc cases
  • Recycling: Number 6 plastics can be recycled through some curbside programs.
  • Recycled Into: Insulation, light switch plates, egg cartons, vents, rulers, foam packing, carry-out containers

Polystyrene can be made into rigid or foam products — in the lattercase it is popularly known as the trademark Styrofoam. Evidencesuggests polystyrene can leach potential toxins into foods. Thematerial was long on environmentalists’ hit lists for dispersing widelyacross the landscape, and for being notoriously difficult to recycle.

Number 7 Plastics — Miscellaneous

  • Found In: Three- andfive-gallon water bottles, ‘bullet-proof’ materials, sunglasses, DVDs,
    iPod and computer cases, signs and displays, certain food containers,nylon
  • Recycling: Number 7 plastics have traditionally not been recycled, though some curbside programs now take them.
  • Recycled Into: Plastic lumber, custom-made products

A wide variety of plastic resins that don’t fit into the previouscategories are lumped into number 7. A few are even made from plants(polyactide) and are compostable. Polycarbonate is number 7, and is the
hard plastic that has parents worried these days, after studies haveshown it can leach potential hormone disruptors.


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