If you look at the number inside the triangle on your plastic, it will range from one to seven. This will tell you both the type of plastic used and which type is recyclable or even reusable. Many plastic-based products cannot break down and cannot be recycled.
Most plastic that displays a one or a two number is recyclable (though you need to check with your area’s recycling provider). But plastic that displays a three or a five often isn’t recyclable. A three indicates that the water bottle has been made from polyvinyl chloride, a five means that it’s been made of polypropylene, two materials that are not accepted by most public recycling centers.
PLASTICS IDENTIFICATION AND RECYCLING CHART
Here are the seven standard classifications for plastics, and the recycling and reuse information for each type. See more information below this chart.
Here’s more information about the different types of plastics.
#1: PET (POLYETHYLENE TEREPHTHALATE)
Water bottles and plastic soda bottles are the most common containers made out of PET. It’s fine to recycle.
However, avoid reusing. Why not reuse? PET is meant for single-use applications; repeated use increases the risk of leaching and bacterial growth. And it’s very difficult to clean or remove harmful chemicals. PET may leach carcinogens.
#2: HDPE (HIGH-DENSITY POLYETHYLENE)
Most milk jugs, detergent containers, and oil bottles are made from HDPE. It’s a very common plastic and one of the safest to use. It’s also fully recyclable.
#3: PVC (POLYVINYL CHLORIDE)
PVC is used for a lot of plastic food wrapping because it’s soft and flexible. Most consumer recyclers will not take PVC products. Also, avoid reusing PVC products, especially when it comes to food or for children’s use. They contain toxins which leach throughout its entire life cycle.
#4: LDPE (LOW-DENSITY POLYETHYLENE)
LDPE is usually what plastic bags are made from. You’ll also find LDPE in shrink wraps, dry cleaner garment bags, and other items.
Though most plastic bags are not recyclable, some companies and recycling centers have found alternatives or are investigating how to recycle plastic bags given their harmfulness to the environment.
LDPE is reusable and safe to repurpose.
#5: PP (POLYPROPYLENE)
Polypropylene plastic is used in those margarine and yogurt containers, potato chip bags, cereal bags, and much more.
Polypropylene is recyclable though many recyclers still don’t accept it; this should change in time. PP is considered safe for reuse.
#6: PS (POLYSTYRENE)
Avoid polystyrene as best possible. It’s used for disposable styrofoam drinking cups, take-out containers, packing peanuts, and more.
Polystyrene is not generally recyclable and accounts for about 35% of US landfill material. Because it breaks apart so easily, it’s also found ingested by marine animals and littering our beaches.
Also, avoid reusing! Chemicals present in polystyrene have been linked with human health and reproductive system dysfunction. Polystyrene may leach styrene, a possible human carcinogen, into food products (especially when heated in a microwave!).
#7: POLYCARBONATE, BPA, AND OTHER PLASTICS
Assume that nothing with the #7 number can be recycled or reused. BPA can leak chemicals. It’s an xenoestrogen, a known endocrine disruptor.