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Plastic Recycling Numbers 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 – What Do They Mean?

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It’s not always easy to spot the difference between the various types of plastics so the plastics industry stamps their goods with recycling numbers from 1-7 and a few letters to help us identify what the plastic is.

But what do the numbers and letters stand for and is it important that we know? Read on as we discover the meanings behind recycling numbers 1 – 7, what numbers can be recycled, and learn to sort the good from the bad.

Recycling Numbers 1 – 7 Explained

Recyclable plastics are stamped with a resin identification code, usually, a small triangle of arrows with the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7 inside that identifies the plastic and informs the recycling center of how it should be processed.

These numbers are referred to as recycling numbers and you may also find some letters stamped into the plastic that further aid in establishing what type of plastic it is.

The recycle triangle numbers and letters are equally as important to households as it allows them to quickly identify, sort, and separate the plastics that can be recycled from those that cannot.

Plastic Recycling Number 1 – PETE or PET

#1 Polyethylene Terephthalate is the most common plastic and the easiest to recycle. Often made into transparent water bottles and food packaging this type of plastic can be recycled back into bottles and packaging.

Plastic Recycling Number 2 – HDPE

#2 High-Density Polyethylene is easy to recycle and is resistant to harsh chemicals which means it is often made into thick semi-hard containers for detergents, bleach, motor oil, antifreeze, and liquid soaps.

HDPE #2 is often recycled into garden planters, benches, bed liners for trucks, and recycling bins.

Plastic Recycling Number 3 – PVC

#3 Polyvinyl Chloride is another very common plastic but can be difficult to reclaim and recycle. PVC can be easily colored and made into soft, or ridged products such as shoes, toys, pipes, and packaging.

PVC can be recycled many times and can even be recycled back into the source product, however, it contains harmful toxins therefore it should always be returned to an authorized recycling center.

Plastic Recycling Number 4 – LDPE

#4 Low-Density Polyethylene is a very soft plastic that can sometimes be recycled and is used in products such as shopping bags, sandwich bags, bin liners, and squeezy tubes. LDPE can be recycled back into its source products.

LDPE is not accepted by every recycling center as the soft and stretchy nature of the plastic means that it can become entangled and stop the machinery causing expensive delays and repairs.

Plastic Recycling Number 5 – PP

Polypropylene can sometimes be recycled but it is harder to do so than Polyethylene and numbers 1 to 4. Often found in products such as beakers, cups, straws yogurt cartons, and bottle tops you may need to check if your local authority will accept this.

When recycled Polypropylene makes excellent battery cases, brooms, rakes, and plastic trays.

Plastic Recycling Number 6 – PS

Polystyrene also known as Styrofoam (or expanded foam) can be recycled but it is not common to do so. This is because Styrofoam takes up a lot of space but the amount of material within that space is tiny which stops recycling from being cost-effective.

Polystyrene is made into lightweight cups, food packaging, trays, packaging beads, and peanuts.

Plastic Recycling Number 7 – Other

Other is a general term to describe any plastic that doesn’t fit into the first six categories or is a mixture of some or all of them. Plastics that fall under ‘recycle bin number 7’ can sometimes be recycled but need specialist equipment to do so.

What Plastics Cannot Be Recycled?

Although all plastics from numbers 1 – 7 can be recycled not all recycling centers have the specialist equipment, or the funding to be able to do so.

As recycling abilities vary from city to city you should always check with your local municipality to confirm which plastics they will retrieve and which plastics you need to upcycle or trash.

recycling numbers chart 1 - 7
Recycling Numbers Chart 1 – 7

For a more in-depth look at recycling please read:-
Recyclable Plastics 1-7 Your Complete Recycling Guide

17+ Environmental Reasons To Recycle – Before It’s Too Late!

27+ Amazing Tips For Setting Up Your Home For Recycling Success

Conclusion

Plastic types 1 and 2 are universally collected and easy to recycle.

Plastics type 3 – 7 require specialist equipment to reclaim and recycle the source materials you need to check with your local municipality if they can do this.

However, there may be other options in your local area such as collecting and upcycling plastics into other products such as artwork installations, building materials, or floating devices within DIY projects.

So I hope you now know what the recycling numbers 1 – 7 mean, why there are letters underneath each number, and why most plastics can be recycled but not all of them are.

Happy recycling!

A proud father of two boys, an amateur actor, and a green living enthusiast, Mark has been sharing hints, tips, and sustainable living content on his website Sustainability Dad since august 2019.

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