Recycling plastics; What the numbers mean
By Green Living Tips

8/5/2009

On most plastic jars, containers and other packaging of products you buy, you'll find what's generally accepted as the recycling logo with a number in the middle and sometimes letters underneath stamped into the plastic.

The recycling logo can be a little misleading - just about anything can be recycled, but sometimes not without major effort. It's a little bit like extracting oil from under the ocean bed compared to extracting oil from tar sands; none of it's really good as such, but some plastics are far, far worse than others.

The Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) implemented the system in 1988 to allow recyclers to be able to tell the different types of plastics when sorting. Basically, the numbers in the triangle indicate the grade of plastic - the resin ID code. It's now a system that's used in many different countries.

The following is what to look for and what it all means. If you're in a rush, you might like to download my free plastics recycling cheat sheet (PDF) - it's a handy tool you can print out and pin up where you have your garbage and recycling bins - and saves you having to remember what each code signifies.



1 - PETE - Polyethylene Terephthalate

The easiest of plastics to recycle. Often used for soda bottles, water bottles and many common food packages. Is recycled into bottles and polyester fibers

2 - HDPE - High density Polyethylene

Also readily recyclable - Mostly used for packaging detergents, bleach, milk containers, hair care products and motor oil. Is recycled into more bottles or bags.

3 - PVC - Polyvinyl Chloride

This stuff is everywhere - pipes, toys, furniture, packaging - you name it. Difficult to recycle and PVC is a major environmental and health threat.

4 - LDPE Low-density Polyethylene

Used for many different kinds of wrapping, grocery bags and sandwich bags and can be recycled into more of the same.

5 - PP - Polypropylene

Clothing, bottles, tubs and ropes. Can be recycled into fibers.

6 - PS - Polystyrene

Cups, foam food trays, packing peanuts. Polystyrene (also known as styrofoam) is a real problem as it's bulky yet very lightweight and that makes it difficult to recycle. For example, a carload of expanded polystyrene would weigh next to nothing so there's not a lot of materials to reclaim, particularly when you take into account the transport getting it to the point of recycling. It can however be reused.

7 - Other

Could be a mixture of any and all of the above or plastics not readily recyclable such as polyurethane. Avoid it if you can - recyclers generally speaking don't want it.

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