What Do The Recycling Numbers Mean On Plastic Recyclables?

What do the recycling numbers mean on plastic recyclables? Learn what the numbers on your plastic recyclables stand for, and how they can help your recycling center. You have probably noticed the small number...

You have probably noticed the small number imprinted onto the bottom of a plastic container. It is typically inside the three arrows that make a triangle, a symbol of recycling. The number inside the triangle is actually an indication of the resin content of that container and the numbers range from 1 to 7.


Those containers with the number 1 are polyethylene plastics. Tracy Herring, Supervisor for the City of Round Rock Environmental Services in Round Rock, Texas explains, "The number 1 plastics are clear plastics. They may be gray, blue or white but they are clear and you can actually see through them." Examples of 1 plastics are soda bottles, ketchup bottles and medicine containers.




Number 2 plastics are high-density polyethylene. Herring says, "The best example of number 2 plastics is a milk jug or water jug." Other examples of 2 plastics are liquid laundry soap containers, bleach containers, shampoo bottles and motor oil bottles.

Number 3 plastics are poly vinyl chloride, or PVC. Pipes, shower curtains and shrink wrap are some examples of this.
Number 4 plastics are low-density polyethylene. Plastic grocery bags and sandwich bags are common examples of number 4 plastics.

Number 5 plastics are polypropylene. Examples of this type of plastic is yogurt tubs and other food storage containers, and outdoor carpet.

Number 6 plastics are polystyrene plastics. Disposable flatware, plastic cups, and bakery containers are examples of this kind of plastic.

Number 7 plastics include all other kinds of plastics. They are usually made from blending different kinds of plastics and are usually difficult to recycle.

In some areas, recycling centers will only take plastics with certain numbers on them. This can be frustrating and confusing for recyclers and can cause people to give up and not recycle. The best way to make sure what you leave at the curb is getting recycled is to call your local recycling center or sanitation service and find out for sure which types they accept. When you know which kinds can be recycled, try to choose packaging that is recyclable when you are shopping. Typically, 1 and 2 plastics are the most recycled.

Sometimes, a recycling center will take all kinds and your local curbside pickup company will only take some kinds, or vice versa. Different facilities have the ability to take different materials because of the different ways they are recycled and the cost of recycling each. Herring says, "We don't take the higher numbers because we don't get enough quantity of those to make a bale. We bale off all the plastics and we segregate them between the ones and twos. We also have to pull out the dyed plastics that are number two as well and bale those separately. So we would have to get enough of those bales to make it worth the space and time- there's really not enough of those to do right now." Finding out who takes what can help you get more things recycled and help you make more of a difference for the environment.

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