What do the numbers mean on plastic recyclables?

November 4, 2020   |   Blog

Keeping plastic and other recyclable material out of our landfills and oceans is essential to protect the environment. Moreover, when disposed of properly, plastic materials can be reused to make a host of items.  

Every item that is recyclable has a recycling symbol with a number ranging from one to seven. But what do these numbers mean?

Rules and regulations vary by city and town based on their recycling programs. To ensure you are disposing of recyclable materials correctly, check with your local waste management provider on what they accept through curbside pickup. Even if they don’t accept certain materials via curbside pickup, there are many drop-off locations that accept recyclable items such as electronics. 

Here’s what each recycling number means: 

#1: PET or PETE

What is it? Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE) is a very common plastic because it is inexpensive and lightweight, and extremely easy to recycle. Many food containers, like peanut butter, ketchup, and mustard, water bottles and soft drinks, are made from PET. 

How to recycle: Products made from PET can be recycled through most curbside programs. Be sure to empty and rinse the container first!

Recycled into: When recycled properly, PET plastic can be transformed into clothes, tote bags, furniture, carpeting, new bottles or food containers. 

#2: HDPE

What is it? High density polyethylene (HDPE) is commonly used for packaging. HDPE is also often found in milk jugs, plastic wrap, detergent containers, shampoo bottles, cereal box liners, butter tubs, and juice bottles.

How to recycle: HDPE is another common plastic material that can be picked up through most curbside programs. While plastic wrap might not be recyclable in your area, many grocery stores provide recycling bins for it to be discarded properly. 

Recycled into: HDPE products can be recycled into the same products again. It can also be turned into floor tiles, writing pens, fencing, picnic tables and more.

#3: PVC or Vinyl

What is it? Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and vinyl is a tough plastic material. It is relatively inexpensive so it is common in many products and packaging. If burned, PVC can release toxins. Wire jacketing, siding, windows and piping are often made from PVC or vinyl.

How to recycle: When it comes to recycling PVC or vinyl, recycling is a bit trickier–but still possible. If you need to dispose of this material contact your local waste management provider for instructions.

Recycled into: When disposed of correctly, PVC and vinyl can be converted back into decks, paneling, flooring, and cables.

#4: LDPE

What is it? Low density polyethylene (LDPE) is a flexible plastic material, often used for wrapping things like bread, frozen food, and dry cleaning. It is also used to make squeezable bottles, tote bags, furniture, and more. 

How to recycle: LDPE is not accepted by all curbside programs, but still should be disposed of correctly. Check with your local recycling program to determine the best way to recycle this material.

Recycled into: LDPE can be turned into trash can liners, plastic lumber, floor tiles, compost bins, shipping envelopes, and more.

#5: PP

What is it? Polypropylene (PP) is a plastic that has a high melting point, making it perfect to hold hot liquids. Yogurt containers, straws, medicine bottles, and caps are also made from PP.

How to recycle: After the container has been cleaned, PP items can often be disposed of in curbside collection bins. 

Recycled into: PP material can be recycled into battery cables, brooms, rakes, bins, brushes, signal lights, and more.

#6: PS

What is it? Polystyrene (PS) is more commonly known as Styrofoam. PS does not biodegrade quickly, so it is essential to recycle this material. Some recycling programs don’t accept it in foam forms. This material is used to make cups, plates, meat trays, egg cartons, carry-out containers, and more.

How to recycle: Check with your local waste management to see if Styrofoam is accepted. If not, some localities have specific drop-off locations for this material. Keeping Styrofoam out of landfills is essential!

Recycled into: PS can be turned back into egg cartons, foam packaging, carry-out containers, insulation, and more.

#7: Miscellaneous

What is it? There are other plastic resins that don’t fit any other category. As a result, they are lumped into this miscellaneous category. For example, polylactic acid (PLA), a material made from plants, falls into this grouping. Items that use other plastic resins include bullet-proof materials, sunglasses, signs and displays, nylon, and more.

How to Recycle: Because this category contains various types of plastics, check with your local recycling provider to see what they accept from the #7 category.

Recycled into: Usually, #7 materials can be turned into custom-made products and plastic lumber.