The Many Faces of Plastic!

There are many types of plastic in use. Plastic must be sorted by type for recycling since each type melts at a different temperature and has different properties. The plastics industry has developed an identification system (or identification codes) to label the different types of plastic. The identification system divides plastic into seven distinct types and uses a number code generally found on the bottom of containers. The following table explains the seven code system.

Plastic #1: Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)
Common uses: 2 liter soda bottles, cooking oil bottles, peanut butter jars. This is the most widely recycled plastic and the only one with a redemption value under the California “Bottle Bill.” Many recycling programs and centers request that you remove caps and flatten the bottles.

Plastic #2: High Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
Common uses: detergent bottles, milk jugs, grocery bags. Most curbside recycling programs accept rigid narrow neck containers.

Plastic #3: Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
Common uses: plastic pipes, outdoor furniture, shrink wrap, water bottles, salad dressing and liquid detergent containers. Recycling centers almost never take #3 plastic. Look for alternatives whenever possible.

Plastic #4: Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
Common uses: dry cleaning bags, produce bags, trash can liners, food storage containers.

Plastic #5: Polypropylene (PP)
Common uses: aerosol caps, drinking straws. Recycling centers almost never take #5 plastic. Look for alternatives whenever possible.

Plastic #6: Polystyrene (PS) a.k.a. “Styrofoam”
Common uses: packaging pellets or peanuts, cups, plastic tableware, meat trays, to-go “clam shell” containers. Many shipping/packaging stores will accept polystyrene peanuts and other packaging materials for reuse.

Plastic #7: Other
Common uses: certain kinds of food containers and Tupperware. This plastic category, as its name of “other” implies, is any plastic other than the named #1-#6 plastic types. These containers can be any of the several different types of plastic polymers. Recycling centers do not take plastic #7. Look for alternatives.

Don’t let plastic recycling be confusing. One way to think about the different types of plastic is to compare plastic to fruit. Not all fruit is the same. An apple is not an orange. Not all plastic is the same. Plastic #1 is not plastic #5. Even within the same plastic group there are differences. To understand what this means consider the fruit group called apples. A red apple is not a green apple. Similarly, a plastic #2 narrow neck milk jug is not the same as a plastic #2 wide mouth yogurt cup.

You can help keep the costs of collection, sorting and reprocessing down and keep the value of the plastic high by recycling only those types of plastic that are currently accepted for recycling.

For more recycling definitions:

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