What Do the Recycling Numbers Mean?

each recycling number means something differentFor as long as you can remember, you’ve been told to recycle anything with the small recycling symbol on it. Have you ever noticed the little number inside of that recycling symbol? Some of us have, but do we all know what this number means? Well, strap in because we’re about to teach you what each one of them means and why!

Why Are There Numbers?

In 1988, the Resin Identification Code (RIC) was created. This was put into place to help know what chemicals are made in each plastic item, how biodegradable it is, the level of leaching, and for separation purposes.

Number 1 – Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE)

  • Usual Form: Soda, beer, and water bottles; oven-safe food trays; peanut butter, salad dressing, and mouthwash containers
  • Leaching Level: Low risk; but bacteria can accumulate
  • Recycled Into: New containers, furniture, carpet, tote bags

Number 2 – High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

  • Usual Form: Milk jugs and dairy containers; motor oil and shampoo bottles; trash bags
  • Leaching Level: Low risk
  • Recycled Into: Lumber, piping, floor tiles, fencing, picnic tables, oil and laundry detergent bottles

Number 3 – Vinyl (PVC)

  • Usual Form: Window cleaner bottles, siding, piping, medical equipment, cooking oil bottles
  • Leaching Level: Can be associated with liver problems, loss of bones mass, and other health issues due to phthalates and DEHA; do NOT cook or burn this plastic
  • Recycled Into: Not collected at curbside, but some can be recycled into floor mats, mud flaps, paneling, decks

Number 4 – Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)

  • Usual Form: Shopping, frozen food, bread, dry cleaning, and tote bags
  • Leaching Level: Low risk
  • Recycled Into: Not usually collected at curbside, but sometimes accepted at recycling centers; usually recycled into lumber, floor tiles, shipping materials, compost bins, trash liners

Number 5 – Polypropylene (PP)

  • Usual Form: Medicine bottles, straws, bottle caps, ketchup and syrup bottles
  • Leaching Level: Low risk
  • Recycled Into: Trays, pallets, bins, brushes, brooms, bicycle racks, ice scrapers

Number 6 – Polystyrene (PS)

  • Usual Form: Disposable dishware, aspirin bottles, egg cartons, meat trays
  • Leaching Level: Bad for the environment; sometimes locally banned
  • Recycled Into: Not accepted at curbside pickup, but can be recycled into to-go food containers, egg cartons, foam packing, insulation

Number 7 – Others (Plastic 7)

  • Usual Form: Nylon, phone cases, compact disks, bulletproof materials, sunglasses
  • Leaching Level: Contains bisphenol-A, which is a very toxic BPA; extremely harmful to health
  • Recycled Into: Not accepted at curbside pickup, but can be recycled into some plastic lumber and other custom-made products

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