How Can You Tell if Plastic is Recyclable?

Polymer ID Codes

If you turn a plastic bottle or container upside-down, you will see a symbol with arrows in a triangular shape. This symbol tells us what sort of plastic the container is made out of, and whether the container can be recycled.

The number in the centre of the triangle indicates the polymer the plastic is composed of, which helps consumers identify plastics for recycling. So what do they mean?

Number 1 and 2 plastics account for approximately 96% of plastic bottles and containers in the U.S., according to the Society of the Plastics Industry.

#1 - PET or PETE: polyethylene terephthalate is used in many soft drink, water, and juice bottles. It's easily recycled, and is accepted by almost all plastic recycling centers.

#2 - HDPE: high-density polyethylene is used in milk jugs, detergent and shampoo bottles.  It is the most widely recycled type of plastic, accepted by most programs. Read more in the forum discussion:Wanted: Baled and Sorted Plastic Milk Bottles

#3 - PVC: Vinyl or polyvinyl chloride is used in some cling wraps, many children's toys, fashion accessories, shower curtains. It is recyclable but there are few companies that will manage this stream. There have been programs such as Recovinyl designed to incentivise the collection of PVC waste from the non-regulated PVC waste streams.

#4 - LDPE: low-density polyethylene is used in plastic shopping bags, some cling wraps, some baby bottles and reusable drink & food containers. It is recyclable at most recycling centers but generally not taken through in curbside programs. 

#5 - PP: polypropylene is used in yogurt containers, and many reusable food and drink containers. It is recyclable in some curbside programs and most recycling centers.

#6 - PS: polystyrene is used in takeout food containers and egg containers. As it has been found to leach styrene (a neurotoxin), it has been banned in cities including Portland, Ore. and San Francisco. Most polystyrene products are currently not recycled due to the lack of incentive to invest in the compactors and logistical systems required

#7 – Everything else. Material classified here is often polycarbonate or ABS, and properties will depend on the polymers or combination of polymers. It gets more tricky here and recyclability must be looked at on an individual basis.

Also see:

Landfill Plastic Could Power 5.2 Million U.S. Homes

SITA UK Converts End-of-Life Plastics into Diesel

Ted Baker asks: What's the best plastic to use for garment bags?

Looking for sources of contaminated rigid plastic waste