Recycling Codes For Plastic

Why bother about recycling codes for plastic?

Here’s why.

While plastic is a useful material found in many day-to-day products, it is non-biodegradable and it takes thousands for years for plastic to disintegrate and decompose. At the same time, disposing plastic through incineration releases much toxic gases into the environment.

Yet plastic products are produced and disposed of at an extremely rapid rate every second, especially now that many disposables like bottles, plates and bags are plastic in nature. Hence, the disposal of plastic is a potential source of serious pollution to the earth.

Fortunately, some types of plastic can be recycled and used to make new plastic. Here’s a summary of the main types of plastic, their plastic recycling codes, and their ability to be recycled.

Type 1 Plastic – Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET, PETE)

The acronym PETE (polyethylene terephthlate) or PET (poly ethylene terephthalate) are often used interchangeably, to refer to type 1 plastic. PET or PETE plastics are often used in soft drink bottles, as well as food and non-food containers, because of their good gas and moisture barrier properties.

Examples of the recycling codes for PET and PETE plastic are seen below.

recycling symbol for PETE plastic

Recycling symbol for PET plastic

PET and PETE plastic can be recycled into carpet yarns, fiberfill, tote bags, food and drink containers, luggage and clothing.

Type 2 Plastic – High Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

The acronym HDPE (high density polyethylene) is often used to refer to type 2 plastic. HDPE plastic is often used to make bottles for beverages with short shelf life, such as milk and juice. Because HDPE has good chemical resistance, it is also often used for containing household and industrial chemicals such as detergents and bleach. HDPE is also used to manufacture grocery and retain bags.

Examples of recycling codes for HDPE plastic are seen below. The “PE-HD” symbol is often used by plastic bag industries.

Recycling symbol for HDPE plastic

Recycling symbol for PE-HD plastic

HDPE plastic can be recycled into bottles for holding household chemicals such as detergent, shampoo, conditioner and even motor oil. Recycled HDPE plastic can also be made into pipes, buckets and bins, pens, flower pots, film and sheets, benches, and even dog houses.

Type 3 Plastic -- Vinyl or Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

The acronym PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride or Vinyl) is used to refer to type 3 plastic. There are two types of PVC plastic. Rigid PVC are made into bottles and packaging sheet, as well as pipes and fittings, carpet backing and windows in the construction market. Given its stable electrical properties, flexible PVC are used in wire and cable insulation. Given its excellent chemical resistance, flexible PVC are also made into blood bags and medical tubing.

Examples of PVC plastic recycling codes can be seen below.

Recycling symbol for PVC plastic

Recycling symbol for Vinyl plastic

Recycled PVC can be made into packaging, mud flaps, film and sheet, floor tiles and mats, resilient flooring, trays, electrical boxes, cables, traffic cones, garden hose.

Type 4 Plastic -- Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE)

The acronym LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene) is used to refer to type 4 plastic. Given its toughness, flexibility and relative transparency, LDPE plastic is often used in cable insulation, flexible bottles, as well as film applications. LDPE is also used extensively in manufacturing breadbags, tote bags, dry cleaning bags, furniture, carpets, and squeezable bottles.

Examples of LDPE plastic recycling codes can be seen below. The “PE-LD” recycling codes are often used by plastic bag manufacturers.

Recycling symbol for LDPE plastic

Recycling symbol for PE-LD plastic

Recycled LDPE plastic can be made into garbage can liners, floor tile, film and sheet, bins, landscape timber and lumber.

Type 5 Plastic -- Polypropylene (PP)

The acronym PP (Polypropylene) is used to refer to type 5 plastic. PP plastic is used extensively for packaging purposes. Given its high melting point and good chemical resistance, it is also used to contain hot-fill liquids, and molded in automotive parts. Examples of PP plastic recycling codes can be seen below.

Recycling symbol for PP plastic

Another recycling symbol for PP plastic

Recycled PP plastic can be made into brooms, rakes, brushes, signal lights, ice scrapers, and trays.

Type 6 Plastic – Polystyrene (PS)

The acronym PS (Polystyrene) is used to refer to type 6 plastic. Given its clear and hard properties, PS plastic is often used in protective packaging, such as CD covers or cases. PS plastic can also be foamed, to be made into Styrofoam which are in turn made into disposable plates and cups and take-away containers, etc.

Examples of PS plastic recycling codes can be seen below.

Recycling symbol for PS plastic

Recycled PS can be used in manufacturing rulers, license plate frames, foam packaging, foam utensils, plate and cups, vents, switch boards, and thermal insulation items.

Type 7 Plastic – Others

Recycling symbol for type 7 plastic

This plastic recycling code indicates that the type of plastic in question is made of a resin other than the six listed above, or is made of more than one resin listed above.

Are all types of plastic recyclable?

The ease of recycling the various types of plastic differs.

Type 1 plastic (PET and PETE) and Type 2 plastic (HDPE) are easy to recycle and poses low risk of leaching breakdown products.

Type 3 plastic (PVC) contains chlorine, and hence, in its manufacture, as well as its disposal (eg. incineration), highly dangerous and toxic gases are released. Hence, type 3 plastic are rarely recycled.

Type 4 plastic (LDPE) are historically not accepted by most American curbside recycling programs. Nevertheless, more and more communities are starting to accept it these days.

Type 5 plastic (PP) are also gradually becoming more accepted by recyclers.

Type 6 plastic (PS), such as Styrofoam, leach toxins and are very difficult to recycle.

Given the high cost of recycling, type 3 to 7 plastics are rarely recycled.

If you wish to make a difference to the environment, what these information mean is that you should try to send your Type 1 and 2 plastics for recycling as much as possible. You should also try to reduce your consumption of Type 3 to 7 plastics, in view that toxins are usually released in their production, use and disposals.

Read more about the process of recycling plastic, as well as other interesting facts about recycling plastic!

Find out where you can send your unwanted plastic for recycling.

Share with us if you know of any interesting statistic or historical fact about plastic recycling.

Also, read other related articles:


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