You may have noticed that plastic items, from household bottles to styrofoam boxes, all carry numbers and recycling symbols. If you recycle your water bottles and other plastic items, you’ve probably heard that these symbols denote the type of plastic used and how it can be recycled for future use, but what exactly does each symbol stand for?

These recycling symbols include a triangle around a number from 1 to 7 with letters underneath and can tell you everything from the toxicity of the plastic in question, to which means of recycling are available for that item.

Plastic Recycling Symbols

used plastic bottle

#1 (PETE or PET – Polyethylene Terephthalate)

This common plastic is commonly picked up by curbside recycling programs and is widely considered safe.

Examples: soda bottles, water bottles, peanut butter containers

#2 (HDPE – High Density Polyethylene)

Typically opaque, this plastic is generally picked up in recycling programs and has a low risk of leaching into items within it.

Examples: milk jugs, shampoo bottles, yogurt tubs, detergent bottles, butter tubs

#3 (V or PVC – Vinyl)

This type of plastic contains DEHA and may contain phthaltaes, which are toxic and it is not safe to cook with or burn. Most curbside recycling will not accept these items.

Examples: food wrap, cooking oil bottles, medical items, piping

#4 (LDPE – Low Density Polyethylene)

This plastic is typically not accepted by recycling programs, but some are starting to take these items. It’s considered to be a safe substance.

Examples: frozen food items, bread bags, squeezable bottles, carpet

#5 (PP – Polypropylene)

One of the safer plastics, this material is becoming more commonly accepted by recycling programs.

Examples: medicine containers, ketchup bottles, syrup bottles

#6 (PS – Polystyrene)

Commonly known as styrofoam, this type of plastic is difficult to recycle and is largely considered bad for the environment. Some cities have even banned its use due to its toxicity. This plastic will leach into food when heated and can cause multiple health problems.

Examples: disposable plates and cups, meat packaging, egg cartons, takeaway containers

#7 (Other)

Any other items that don’t fit into other categories will wind up in this miscellaneous section. Many of these items contain BPA, which can cause serious health issues if consumed.

Examples: nylon, water jugs, computer cases, sunglasses

In summary, plastics 2, 4, and 5 are considered the safest, while 3, 6, and 7 should be avoided. Recycling plastics is a key component to aiding the environment, and these categories can be very beneficial in getting the most from your recycling efforts.

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