10 Oct So, What Exactly Do Those Recycling Numbers Mean on the Bottoms of Plastic Items?
You might have glimpsed numbers on the bottoms of plastic containers and bottles. Are you aware of their meaning and how these numbers apply to sustainability and recycling practices?
When it comes to recycling and eco-friendliness, all plastics are not created equal. Some are less harmful to the environment than others. Knowing the meanings of these numbers can help you to make greener decisions about your food, drink and product purchases.
Playing the Numbers Game with the Environment
Every plastic container has a recycling number symbol within a triangle. This system ranges from 1 to 7 and relates to its biodegradability, the amount of toxic chemicals within the plastic, how likely it is to leach into the environment, and ultimately how safe it is.
The following is an overview of the plastics that each recycling number refers to:
#1. Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE or PET)
This thin plastic type is made into bottles used for water, soda and various household products. It is usually clear and can begin to accumulate bacteria if reused. It can be recycled into many items including carpet, tote bags, paneling, furniture and even polar fleece.
#2. High Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
This plastic type tends to be opaque in color. It is used for shampoo and conditioner bottles, yogurt containers, milk jugs, butter tubs and detergent jugs. It can be recycled into plastic picnic tables, recycling containers, pens, fences, detergent bottles and more.
#3. Vinyl (V or PVC)
This plastic type is used in food wrappers and pipes for plumbing; however, it is usually not picked up in curbside recycling programs. This type of plastic contains phthalates and DEHA, which can cause multiple health problems including miscarriages, developmental issues and cancer. This plastic can be recycled into flooring, decking material and roadway speed bumps.
#4. Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
This softer plastic is used for shopping bags, squeezable bottles, clothing and some food wrappers. It can be recycled into compost bins, trash cans and liners, floor tiles and sturdy envelopes.
#5. Polypropylene (PP)
Polypropylene is used in ketchup bottles, medicine containers, syrup bottles and some yogurt containers. It can be recycled into mops, brooms, bins, pallets, auto battery cases, traffic signal lights and other hard plastic consumer products.
#6. Polystyrene (PS – also known as Styrofoam)
Styrofoam has a bad reputation in terms of recycling and sustainability – and rightfully so. It can leach toxic chemicals into the environment and is generally not accepted into recycling programs. Avoid buying products with Styrofoam packaging whenever possible. However, there are ways to recycle it into egg cartons, meat trays, insulation and foam packing used in shipping.
#7. “Other Plastics” (Miscellaneous)
Any plastic that can’t be classified in the above six areas is labeled with a 7. Most contain toxic polycarbonates and bisphenol-A (BPA), which act as hormone disruptors that can cause reproductive issues, infertility and hyperactivity. Sunglasses, electronics cases, nylon and bullet proof materials are all in this category. These items can be recycled into synthetic building materials and custom products.
While avoiding the use of plastics is the most eco-friendly approach, the categories of 2, 4 and 5 are generally considered the safest and least toxic.