The symbol is a number within a triangle, ranging from 1 to 7.
While you may think nothing of these symbols, they can actually offer a great deal of information regarding the toxic chemicals used in the plastic, how likely the plastic is to leach, how bio-degradable the plastic is, and ultimately the safety of the plastic.
Here is some information on the various recycling symbols and numbers:
Number 1 Plastic – PETE or PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)
Picked up by most curbside recycling programs, the number 1 plastic is usually clear and used to make soda and water bottles. It’s found mostly insoda bottles,water bottles, beer bottles, salad dressing containers, mouthwash bottles, and peanut butter containers.
Number 1 plastic is recycled into tote bags, furniture, carpet, paneling, fiber, and polar fleece.
PET plastic is the most common for single-use bottled beverages, because it is inexpensive, lightweight and easy to recycle. It poses low risk of leaching breakdown products.
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Number 2 Plastic – HDPE (High Density Polyethylene)
The number 2 plastic is typically opaque and picked up by most curbside recycling programs. This plastic is one of the 3 plastics considered to be safe, and has a lower risk of leaching.
It’s found mostly in milk jugs, household cleaner containers, juice bottles, shampoo bottles, cereal box liners, detergent bottles, motor oil bottles, yogurt tubs, and butter tubs, milk jugs, detergent bottles, juice bottles, butter tubs, and toiletries bottles are made of this. It is usually opaque. This plastic is considered safe and has low risk of leaching.
Number 2 plastic is recycled into pens, recycling containers, picnic tables, lumber, benches, fencing, and detergent bottles, to name a few.
HDPE is a versatile plastic with many uses, especially for packaging. It carries low risk of leaching and is readily recyclable into many goods.
Number 3 Plastic – V or PVC (Vinyl)
Number 3 plastic is used to make food wrap, plumbing pipes, and detergent bottles, and is seldom accepted by curbside recycling programs. These plastics used to, and still may, contain phthalates, which are linked to numerous health issues ranging from developmental problems to miscarriages. They also contain DEHA, which can be carcinogenic with long-term exposure. DEHA has also been linked to loss of bone mass and liver problems. Don’t cook with or burn this plastic.
It’s found in shampoo bottles, clear food packaging, cooking oil bottles, medical equipment, piping, and windows.
This plastic is recycled into paneling, flooring, speed bumps, decks, and roadway gutters.
PVC is tough and weathers well, so it is commonly used for piping, siding and similar applications. PVC contains chlorine, so its manufacture can release highly dangerous dioxins. If you must cook with PVC, don’t let the plastic touch food. Also never burn PVE, because it releases toxins.
Number 4 Plastic – LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene)
Low density polyethylene is most found in squeezable bottles, shopping bags, clothing, carpet, frozen food, bread bags, and some food wraps. Curbside recycling programs haven’t been known to pick up this plastic, but more are starting to accept it. Plastic #4 rests among the recycling symbols considered to be safe.
This plastic is recycled into compost bins, paneling, trash can liners and cans, floor tiles, and shipping envelopes.
LDPE is a flexible plastic with many applications.
Historically it has not been accepted through most American curbside recycling programs, but more and more communities are staring to accept it.
Number 5 Plastic – PP (Polypropylene)
Increasingly becoming accepted by curbside recycle programs, the number 5 plastic is also one of the safer plastics to look for.
It is typically found in yogurt containers, ketchup bottles, syrup bottles, and medicine bottles.
Polypropylene is recycled into brooms, auto battery cases, bins, pallets, signal lights, ice scrapers, and bicycle racks.
Number 6 Plastic – PS (Polystyrene)
Polystyrene is Styrofoam, which is notorious for being difficult to recycle, and thus, bad for the environment. This kind of plastic also poses a health risk, leaching potentially toxic chemicals, especially when heated. Most recycling programs won’t accept it.
Number 6 plastic is found in compact disc cases, egg cartons, meat trays, and disposable plates and cups.
It is recycled into egg cartons, vents, foam packing, and insulation.
Number 7 Plastic – Other, Miscellaneous
All of the plastic resins that don’t fit into the other categories are placed in the number 7 category. It’s a mix bag of plastics that includes polycarbonate, which contains the toxic bisphenol-A (BPA). These plastics should be avoided due to possibly containing hormone disruptors like BPA, which has been linked to infertility, hyperactivity, reproductive problems, and other health issues.
Number 7 plastic is found in sunglasses, iPod cases, computer cases, nylon, 3- and 5-gallon water bottles, and bullet-proof materials.
It is recycled into plastic lumber and other custom-made products.
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