How To Read Plastic Recycling Symbols

How To Read Plastic Recycling Symbols


Have you ever wondered what the numbered symbol on plastic products is for? People often assume it means the plastic item is recyclable, but that's not always the case. In 1988, The Society of the Plastic Industry implemented the Resin Identification Coding System to stipulate the type of plastic a particular product is made with, but the symbols do not necessarily indicate whether the item is recyclable or not. We realize this may be confusing, but gaining an understanding of the coding system will help your business recycle smarter. Continue reading to learn about each plastic code, whether that particular type of plastic is recyclable, and be sure to check out the infographic at the bottom of the post!



Polyethylene Terephthalate (No. 1 PETE / PET)

Whether you realize it or not, your business probably consumes PETE plastics very frequently. PETE is a clear, strong, and lightweight plastic that is usually used for single-use packaging food and drink containers, like soda and water bottles, beer bottles, salad dressing bottles, and peanut butter containers.

is polyethylene terephthalate recyclable?

Polyethylene Terephthalate is recyclable, but the average recycling rate is roughly 30% each year. These containers are widely accepted by most curbside recycling programs. To ensure your business is always recycling these products, you can identify PETE / PET bottles by searching for the symbol with the '1' on it. (Hint: You can remember this symbol because PETE is the most common plastic). Recycling PETE bottles and containers can create new plastic containers, furniture, carpet, fiber, and polar fleece.




High-Density Polyethylene (No. 2 HDPE)

HDPE is another common type of plastic found in many household products like milk jugs, cleaning containers, and shampoo and detergent bottles. HDPE is ideal for these types of consumer products because it is light weight but durable.

IS High-density polyethylene RECYCLABLE?

HDPE is easy to recycle and typically accepted in most curbside recycling programs. These products are commonly recycled into pens, picnic tables, lumber, benches and fences. Always remember to rinse and dry your #2 containers for recycling!




Polyvinyl Chloride (No. 3 PVC or V)

Polyvinyl Chloride, commonly referred to as Vinyl, is very versatile, and usually found in food wrap, window cleaning bottles, piping, medical equipment, plastic gloves, siding and food packaging. Vinyl is ideal for these types of products because of its lightweight, strong, durable and flexible properties.

is polyvinyl chloride recyclable?

Polyvinyl Chloride contains chemicals that are very hazardous, so they are not commonly accepted through curbside recycling. Although this is the case, never throw your Vinyl plastics away because they are very long-lasting and reusable. Some drop-off recycling centers will accept Vinyl products and properly recycle them. When this is the case, Vinyl is used to make window frames, garden hoses, flooring and siding.




Low-Density Polyethylene (No. 4 LDPE)

LDPE is best known for its use in shopping bags, carpets, squeezable bottles, furniture, clothing, and frozen food packaging. It's flexibility and light weight makes it very convenient for packaging purposes, but extremely difficult to recycle at most facilities.

is low-density polyethylene recyclable?

LDPE's lightweight and flexibility make it difficult to recycle because it can easily damage recycling equipment. Although, some Low Density Polyethylene plastics can be taken to drop-off centers for proper recycling. When it is recycled, LDPE creates compost bins, paneling, trash can liners, floor tiles and shipping envelopes. Leave us a comment below if you need help finding a drop-off center in your area!




Polypropylene (No. 5 PP)

Polypropylene is tough, lightweight and resistant to moisture, grease and chemicals. This type of plastic is commonly found in ketchup bottles, syrup bottles, yogurt containers, straws and medicine bottles.

is polypropylene recyclable?

Once rinsed and dried, most curbside recycling programs accept plastic #5. Always confirm this information with your service provider before recycling! When recycled, these products can create landscaping border stripping, brooms, bins, trays and much more.




Polystyrene (No. 6 PS)

Polystyrene is very lightweight and commonly disposed of after one use. It is usually found in egg cartons, Styrofoam, packing peanuts, disposable cups and dinnerware. Polystyrene is very inexpensive and easily produced, which makes it great for one-time use applications, but very difficult to recycle.

is polystyrene recyclable?

Most recycling facilities will not recycle Polystyrene, so it's best to avoid using this plastic as much as possible. Currently, Polystyrene makes up about 35% of waste in U.S. landfill. Luckily there are many reusable items that can be used in place of Polystyrene. Learn about them here.




"OTHER" (No. 7)

Plastic #7 is a miscellaneous category for all the plastics that didn't fit into the other six categories. It is sometimes found in products like sunglasses, DVDs, baby bottles and sports equipment.

is "other" recyclable?

"Other" plastics usually contain BPA, Polycarbonate and LEXAN which can be very harmful to human health if improperly disposed of. For those reasons, these products are not accepted curbside, but are sometimes accepted by drop-off centers. Best practice is to research each individual item before disposing of them.


Hopefully you feel more comfortable with the complexities of plastic recycling now! As a reminder, always double-check your local recycling regulations for the differing types of plastics, because each recycling facility has specific guidelines for the types of plastic they accept. We encourage you to check out the infographic below and use it as a resource for yourself and your colleagues. Leave us a comment below to let us know what you think. If you're interested in recycling more plastic, learn about our mixed recycling services for businesses.


(click the infographic to download)



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