Recycling Symbols on Plastics – What Do Recycling Codes on Plastics Mean
Sometimes everything in modern America seems to be made of plastic. The versatile material is contained in our cars, toys, packaging, clothing, household goods, food utensils and much more – but it also pollutes our streets, clogs our waterways and suffocates marine life. Actually, a study for 2016 noticed, that 32% of plastic packaging ends up in our oceans every year.
Many plastics can be easily recycled, but after National Geographic whopping 91% of the plastic has never been recycled. With all the different rules and symbols, it can be confusing for consumers to find out exactly what each plastic recycling symbol means and how it can be recycled. While the universal plastic resin symbol (three tracking arrows that form a triangle) remains the same, the numbers one through seven make a significant difference inside. For your information: Just because a product has the symbol for tracking arrows does not mean that it is recyclable – it is only an indicator of the type of plastic.
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Here in Good Housekeeping InstituteOur team is passionate about sustainability and the environment. To help from you Decode environmentally friendly claims to share the winners of our very first Awards for sustainable packagingWe are here to help you make smarter home decisions and the environment. First, find out about recycling tips from our environmental experts.
How to know which plastics can be recycled
Every city has different recycling programs, so you often need to check the rules of your location to find out exactly what you can recycle. “There are times when your recycling program may change what it collects,” says Mike Brown of Brown and Wilmanns Environmental, one of our environmental consultants. Even if there is no way for your city to recycle a certain material, there is still the possibility that you will still collect it and either store or dispose of it.
Of course, the symbols themselves must also be explained. Here’s what each plastic recycling symbol means, along with examples of where to find it and how to recycle it.
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Plastic recycling symbol No. 1: PET or PETE
PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate) is the most commonly used plastic for single-use drinks in bottles because it is inexpensive, light and easy to recycle. There is a low risk of leaching degradation products. The recycling rates remain relatively low (around 20%), although the material is in high demand from the manufacturers.
Found in: Soft drinks, water, ketchup and beer bottles; Mouthwash bottles; Peanut butter container; Salad dressing and vegetable oil containers
How to recycle it: Most roadside recycling programs can include PET or PETE as long as it is emptied and rinsed by food. When it comes to caps, our environmental professionals say it’s probably better to throw them in the trash (since they’re usually made of a different type of plastic), unless your city specifically says you throw them in the trash can. Bottle labels do not have to be removed as they are separated by the recycling process.
Recycled in: Polar fleece, fibers, carrier bags, furniture, carpets, cladding, straps, bottles and food containers (as long as the plastic to be recycled meets the purity standards and does not contain any dangerous contaminants)
Plastic recycling symbol no.2: HDPE
HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) is a versatile plastic with many uses, especially in packaging. It has a low leaching risk and can be easily recycled into many types of goods.
Found in: Milk jug; Juice bottles; Bleach, detergent and other household cleaning bottles; Shampoo bottles; some garbage and shopping bags; Engine oil bottles; Butter and yogurt cups; Cereal box liner
How to recycle it: HDPE can often be picked up by most roadside recycling programs, although some only accept containers with necks. Weak plastics (such as shopping bags and plastic wrap) cannot normally be recycled, however Some stores will collect and recycle them.
Recycled in: Detergent bottles, oil bottles, pens, recycling containers, floor tiles, drain pipes, sawn timber, benches, dog houses, picnic tables, fences, shampoo bottles
Plastic recycling symbol no.3: PVC or V.
PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and V (vinyl) are tough and weatherproof, which is why it is often used for pipelines and siding. PVC is also cheap, so it is found in many products and packaging. Since chlorine is part of PVC, highly dangerous dioxins can be released during production. Remember never to burn PVC as it releases toxins.
Found in: Shampoo and edible oil bottles, blister packaging, wire jacket, siding, windows, pipes
How to recycle it: PVC and V can rarely be recycled, but are accepted by some plastic wood manufacturers. If you need to dispose of either material, ask your local waste disposal service whether you should throw it in the trash or drop it in at a collection center.
Recycled in: Decks, cladding, mud flaps, gullies, floors, cables, speed bumps, mats
Plastic recycling symbol no.4: LDPE
LDPE (low density polyethylene) is a flexible plastic with many applications. Historically, most American recycling programs have not accepted it, but more and more communities are beginning to accept it.
Found in: Squeezable bottles; Bread, frozen foods, dry cleaning and shopping bags; Carrier bags; Furniture
How to recycle it: LDPE is not often recycled through curb programs, but some communities may accept it. This means that anything made with LDPE (like toothpaste tubes) can be thrown in the trash. As we mentioned under HDPE, plastic bags can often be Returned to stores for recycling.
Recycled in: Trash can linings and cans, compost containers, shipping envelopes, cladding, sawn timber, landscaping trusses, floor tiles
Plastic recycling symbols No. 5: PP
PP (polypropylene) has a high melting point and is therefore often chosen for containers with hot liquids. It is gradually becoming more accepted by recyclers.
Found in: Some yogurt containers, syrup and medicine bottles, caps, straws
How to recycle it: PP can be recycled through some roadside programs. However, don’t forget to make sure there are no more foods in it. It is best to throw loose caps in the trash, as they easily slide through the screens during recycling and end up as trash anyway.
Recycled in: Signal lights, battery cables, brooms, brushes, car battery cases, ice scrapers, landscape borders, bike racks, rakes, containers, pallets, trays
Plastic recycling symbol no.6: PS
PS (polystyrene) can be processed into hard or foam products – in the latter case it is popularly known as the trademark styrofoam. Styrene monomer (a type of molecule) can leach out in food and is a potential human carcinogen, while styrene oxide is classified as a likely carcinogen. The material was on the environmentalists’ hit lists for a long time because it was spread far across the landscape and was notoriously difficult to recycle. Most places still don’t accept it in foam form because it’s 98% air.
Found in: Disposable plates and cups, meat dishes, egg boxes, transport containers, aspirin bottles, CD covers
How to recycle it: Not a lot of roadside recycling Programs accept PS in the form of rigid plastics (and many manufacturers have switched to PET instead). Since foam products tend to break up into smaller pieces, you should put them in a bag, squeeze out the air and bind them together before throwing them in the trash to prevent pellets from spreading.
Recycled in: Insulation, light switch plates, egg boxes, ventilation slots, rulers, foam packaging, transport containers
Plastic recycling symbol no.7: miscellaneous
A large number of plastic resins that do not fit into the previous categories are summarized in these. Polycarbonate is plastic number seven, and it’s the hard plastic that worried the parents afterwards Studies have shown that it is a hormone disruptor. PLA (polylactic acid), which is made from plants and is climate-neutral, also falls into this category.
Found in: Three and five gallon water bottles, bulletproof materials, sunglasses, DVDs, iPod and computer cases, signs and displays, certain food containers, nylon
How to recycle it: These other plastics are traditionally not recycled. So don’t expect your local provider to accept them. It is best to consult your community’s website for specific instructions.
Recycled in: Lumber and special designs
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