The meaning of plastic recycling symbols

This is a handy guide on the various types of plastic.

The following is a handy guide on the various types of plastic:

Number 1 Plastics: PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate) — Found in: soft drink, water, beer and mouthwash bottles; peanut butter, dressing and vegetable oil containers; ovenable food trays. Poses low risk of leaching breakdown products. Recommended for one-time use. Do not refill water bottles. Recycling rates remain relatively low (around 20 percent), though the material is in high demand.

Number 2 Plastics: HDPE (high-density polyethylene) — Found in: milk jugs, juice bottles; bleach, detergent, household cleaner bottles; shampoo bottles; some trash and shopping bags; motor oil bottles; butter and yogurt tubs; cereal box liners. HDPE carries low risk of leaching and is readily recyclable into many goods.

Number 3 Plastics: V (Vinyl) or PVC — Found in: window cleaner, detergent, shampoo and cooking oil bottles; clear food packaging; wire jacketing; medical equipment; siding, windows; piping. PVC contains chlorine, so its manufacture can release highly dangerous dioxins. If you must cook with PVC, don’t let the plastic touch food as it releases toxins when burned.

Number 4 Plastics: LDPE (low-density polyethylene) — Found in: squeezable bottles; bread, frozen food, dry cleaning and shopping bags; tote bags; clothing; furniture; carpet. Historically, LDPE has not been accepted into most recycling programs, but some communities are starting to accept it.

Number 5 Plastics: PP (polypropylene) — Found in: some yogurt containers and water bottles; Rubbermaid products; syrup, ketchup bottles; caps, straws; medicine bottles. Polypropylene has a high melting point and is often used for containers that must accept hot liquid. It is becoming more accepted by recyclers.

Number 6 Plastics: PS (polystyrene) — Found in: disposable plates and cups; meat trays and egg cartons; carryout containers; aspirin bottles; compact disc cases. Can be made into rigid or foam products, known as Styrofoam™. Evidence suggests polystyrene can leach potential toxins into foods. This material was long on environmentalists’ hit lists for being difficult to recycle.

Number 7 Plastics: Miscellaneous — Found in: three- and five-gallon water bottles; baby bottles, sippy cups; metal food-can liners; “bullet-proof” materials; sunglasses; DVDs, iPod and computer cases; signs and displays; certain food containers; nylon. A wide variety of plastic resins that don’t fit into the previous categories are lumped into number 7. A few are even made from plants (polyactide) and are compostable. Polycarbonate is number 7, a hard plastic that has parents worried, after studies have shown it can leach potential hormone disruptors.


Resource: The Daily Green, March 31, 2008.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 27, Number 3, June/July 2008.

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