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Sometimes it seems like everything in modern world is made of plastic. The versatile material is in our cars, toys, packaging, clothing, home goods, food utensils, and so much more littering our streets, clogging our waterways, and choking marine life. In fact, in 2016, a study found that 32% of plastic packaging ends up in our oceans every year.

Many industries want to recycle their plastic which they use in their manufacturing processes. With all the different rules and symbols, it can be confusing for consumers to figure out exactly what each plastic recycling symbol means and how to recycle it.

What Do Plastic Recycling Symbols Mean?

The below info graphics helps to learn how plastic recycling numbers and symbols can help you determine how to recycle your waste, potential risks of each plastic, and what these products are recycled into.

What Are the Seven Main Plastics?

The seven main types of plastic resins are Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE), High-density Polyethylene (HDPE), Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), Low-density Polyethylene (LDPE), Polypropylene (PP), and Polystyrene (PS). The seventh category is designated as “other,” which can include Polycarbonate Resins, Acrylic, Polyactic Fibers, Nylon, and Fiberglass.

Plastic Recycling Symbols and Numbers

To determine which type of plastic a container is made of, you should look for its Resin Identification Code (RIC), which is the number (between 1 and 7) within the triangular recycling symbol located on each plastic product introduced by the Plastics Industry Trade Association.

Plastic Recycling Symbol 1

PET or PETE (Polyethylene Terephthalate)

PET or PETE (Polyethylene Terephthalate) is the most common plastic for single-use bottled beverages, because it’s inexpensive, lightweight, and easy to recycle.

It can be recycled by Curbside recycling. There is risk of bacteria to accumulate.

Plastic Recycling Symbol 2

HDPE (High Density Polyethylene)

HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) is a versatile plastic with many uses, especially when it comes to packaging. It carries low risk of leaching and is readily recyclable into many types of goods.

It can be recycled by Curbside recycling. One of three plastics considered safe due to a lower risk of leaching.

Plastic Recycling Symbol 3

PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) or V (Vinyl)

PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) and V (Vinyl) is tough, so it’s commonly used for things like piping and siding. Because chlorine is part of PVC, it can result in the release of highly dangerous dioxins during manufacturing. Remember to never burn PVC, because it releases toxins.

It is difficult to recycle as it requires mechanical or feed stock recycling.

Plastic Recycling Symbol 4

LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene)

LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene) is a flexible plastic with many applications like Squeezable bottles and bread, frozen food, dry cleaning, and shopping bags.

It is outside recycling facilities.

Plastic Recycling Symbols 5

PP (Polypropylene)

PP (Polypropylene) has a high melting point, so it’s often chosen for containers that will hold hot liquid such as medicine bottles, caps, straws.

It can be recycled by Curbside recycling.

Plastic Recycling Symbol 6

PS (Polystyrene)

PS (Polystyrene) can be made into rigid or foam products, popularly known as the trademark Styrofoam. Disposable plates and cups, meat trays, egg cartons are usually made fro this plastic category.

It is difficult to recycle. Not many curbside recycling programs accept PS in the form of rigid plastics.

Plastic Recycling Symbol 7

Miscellaneous Plastic

Miscellaneous plastics refers to nylon, styrene, and fiberglass to name a few. It can be found in items such as sunglasses, computer cases, baby bottles, and bulletproof materials.

These miscellaneous plastics can be recycled and made into products such as plastic lumber and outdoor signs, but it is difficult to recycle.

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