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Plastic Recycling Symbols Demystified

Plastic Recycling Symbols Demystified

Okay so we all know that plastics are bad – bad for the environment, bad for us, and well frankly are just not aesthetically pleasing either. There’s no need to throw around any statistics or quote any research as to how bad plastics are. It’s a universally accepted fact.

 Yet it’s pretty hard to turn around and not bump into something made of plastic. The one upside is that many different types of plastic can be recycled and/or reused. But how do you know which is which and what goes into which bin?

Thankfully, there are standard symbols used across the globe that tell you what kind of plastic you’re dealing with. So, it won’t matter if you can’t read Japanese or Greek – the symbol tells it all.

The Loop:

I’m quite sure you are familiar with the loop pictured below.

It indicates that the material can be recycled. However, just the presence of the symbol doesn’t tell us how easy it is to do so. That’s where the Resin Identification Codes come in.

Resin Identification Codes:

The Resin Identification Codes are basically the numbers you see inside the recycling triangle. They range from one to seven. Each number tells us what kind of plastic resin has been used to make the item you are looking at. We’ve explained what these codes stand for, where you might see them, how these plastics can be recycled and wherever possible, suggested an alternative.

  1. ‘1’ signifies PET/PETE or polyethylene terephthalate

PET is a single use, lightweight, clear plastic used to make beverage bottles, salad dressing bottles, mouthwash bottles and the like. It is easy to recycle provided it reaches the right agencies. The caps of these bottles are usually made up of a different plastic though. Many cities in the country have separate bottle collection centres that you can deposited your used, cleaned bottles. This plastic can be recycled into a variety of products like furniture, new containers, and carpets.

It isn’t advisable to reuse pet bottles as PET is known to collect harmful bacteria over a period of time.

  1. ‘2’ signifies HDPE (high density polyethylene)

HPDE is thicker and stronger than PET. It is used to make shampoo bottles, juice and milk jars, yogurt tubs and cleaning containers. These containers can be reused at home to store liquids once they are cleaned. HPDE is also easily recycled into pens, toys, and outdoor furniture to name a few.

  1. ‘3’ signifies PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and V (vinyl)

It is a thick, versatile, typically opaque plastic used to make plumbing pipes, medical equipment, and some food packaging items.  As it contains chlorine, it isn’t advisable to heat food in these containers nor is it advisable to reuse these items. It can only be recycled in highly specialized facilities. When it is recycled, it is recycled into roadside gutters, window frames, and cables.

  1. ‘4’ signifies LDPE (low density polyethylene)

This is another popular plastic known for its flexibility, low manufacturing cost and light weight. It is commonly used to make grocery bags, cling film, food packets (like bread packaging), container lids, the list is exhaustive, but you get the picture. Despite its large number of uses, this plastic is terribly difficult to recycle and often ends up as microplastic when it breaks down in landfills. Use cotton or hemp tote bags when you go shopping to reduce your use of this plastic.

When it is recycled, it can be turned into shipping envelopes, compost bins, and bin liners.

  1. ‘5’ signifies Polypropylene (PP)

This hard plastic is moisture and heat resistant and is safe to use as food containers. Its high melting point means that you can use it to heat food in. A simple example of PP is Tupperware containers. It is accepted for recycling in most facilities. It can be recycled into products like battery cables, brooms, toys, and bins.

  1. ‘6’ signifies Polystyrene

I’d like to start by saying just NO! Avoid this one at all costs! It’s a one-time use plastic used to make disposable Styrofoam plates and glasses along with packing material and egg cartons. It’s extremely difficult to recycle and typically ends up in landfill where it will stay. Use biodegradable dinnerware and old newspapers for packaging material as alternatives.

  1. ‘7’ signifies Miscellaneous Materials

Products with the number 7 on them typically contain plastics that are not covered in the list above. The products may also contain a blend of different plastics making them hard to recycle. Many of these plastics like BPA, ABS and others can be highly toxic to humans. You may find this number on sunglasses, baby bottles, or sports equipment. It’s easy if you’re unsure just avoid it!

Now you know what those numbers inside the symbol mean. To cut a long story short – avoid 6 and 7 and Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle as much as you can. Oh, and remember segregating and washing your plastics before safe disposal decreases their chances of ending up in landfill.

Keep reading this blog to help simplify your route to eco-conscious living. I’m off to eat my dinner from a reusable steel plate. Until next time my fellow plastic warrior!

Your very own eco-storyteller,


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