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Recycling Plastics By The Numbers 1-7: All You Need To Know

When recycling plastics, you may notice a triangular recycling symbol with a number placed near, in, or outside of the symbol embossed upon the plastics. This number ranges from 1 -7 and is called the resin identification code (RIC). 

But what does it mean, what does it tell you, and how should you deal with it? 

To answer these questions here is a brief explanation of the numbers, and how you can use them to recycle your plastic waste in a way that will protect the environment.

Recycling by the numbers 1-7

recycling plastics
Recycling symbols and numbers

Number 1 – PET (Polyethylene terephthalate)

PET is often used in the construction of transparent water bottles, soda bottles, food packages, and various types of packaging materials. It’s the easiest of plastics to recycle and can be re-recycled into its source product. Alternatively, PET can be re-recycled into new products such as carpet, furniture, and clothing fibers. 

Look for recycling plastics code 1 to indicate that the container contains PET.

Number 2 – HDPE (High-density polyethylene)

This strong and durable plastic is commonly used for juice bottles, shampoo, and detergent bottles, and hard-wearing shopping bags. It’s also easy to recycle, semi-hard, and resistant to harsh chemicals. For these reasons, HDPE can be re-recycled into containers for corrosive items such as bleach or cleaning chemicals. 

Look for recycling plastics code 2 to indicate that the container contains HDPE.

Number 3 – PVC (Polyvinyl chloride)

This hard plastic is commonly found within pipes, window frames, tubing, shoes, and children’s toys.

PVC contains harmful toxins and is therefore not accepted by some recycling programs as it requires specialist equipment for the recycling process. 

PVC should always be returned to an authorized recycling center for legal disposal or reclamation.

Look for recycling plastics code 3 to indicate that the container contains PVC.

Number 4 – LDPE (Low-density polyethylene)

This flexible and lightweight plastic is used to create sandwich bags, squeeze bottles, and some shopping bags. It’s not as widely recycled as PET and HDPE, but some recycling programs do accept it. 

LDPE can be recycled back into its source product or into items such as trash can liners and plastic lumber.

Look for recycling plastics code 4 to indicate that the container contains LDPE.

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

Number 5 – PP (Polypropylene)

This tough but lightweight plastic is used for yogurt containers, margarine tubs, and takeout containers. It’s becoming more widely accepted by recycling programs and can be recycled into signal lights, battery cases, and more.

Look for recycling plastics code 5 to indicate that the container contains PP.

Number 6 – PS (Polystyrene)

This brittle and lightweight plastic is commonly used for foam cups, takeout containers, and CD and DVD cases. It’s problematic to recycle and is not accepted by many recycling programs. It’s better for the environment if you avoid buying products made of PS whenever possible.

Look for recycling plastics code 6 to indicate that the container contains PS.

Number 7 – (Other)

This category can include any plastic that doesn’t fit into the previous categories, including polycarbonate (PC) and bioplastics.

These plastics are difficult to recycle and may not be accepted by all recycling programs. 

Bioplastics, created from plant-based materials, aren’t necessarily more eco-friendly than traditional plastics and can contaminate recycling streams if not disposed of properly.

Remember, you must always check with your local recycling authority to see what types of plastics they accept and how they require the plastics to be prepared for 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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