We have all seen the chasing arrows symbol with little numbers on the bottom of plastic products, but what do these numbers mean? Contrary to popular belief, the triangular symbol does necessarily not mean the items can be recycled. There are seven different categories of plastics. NOTE: Where you live will determine how feasible it is to recycle certain plastics.
1-PETE/PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) : These are the easiest plastics to recycle, and you probably held one of these in your hands today. Some plastics with PET include plastic soda and water bottles, cooking oil containers, and peanut butter jars. Recycled PET can be turned into more plastic bottles and polyester fibers for jackets, carpets, and other garments. These plastics are intended for single use, as multiple uses can cause bacteria to grow since this material is hard to clean.
2-HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) : HDPE plastic is also very common in day-to-day use items and relatively easy to recycle. It is found in milk jugs, detergent bottles, shampoo bottles, etc. Once recycled, these can be turned into more bottles or bags. While it is able to be recycled, it is always a good idea to consider buying glass alternatives or other materials.
3-PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) : PVC is found in pipes, cables, kids’ toys, plastic food wrap, and vinyl records. This material is extremely difficult to recycle and most of the time is not recycled at all. It also contains harmful toxins and should not be repurposed to use in contact with food. While it is in some plastic food wrap, those plastics are treated with other chemicals in order to be food safe. Despite this fact, use of disposable food wrap still puts unnecessary chemicals in your body. A good alternative to plastic wrap that I love using is beeswax wrap.
4-LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene) : Some items that contain LDPE are plastic grocery bags, sandwich bags, dry cleaner bags, and plastic bread bags. This material is difficult to recycle, and it can only be recycled in certain locations. Some stores will collect these bags if you bring them in. A great cheap alternative to plastic grocery bags is cloth or canvas bags!
5-PP (Polypropylene) : PP is most commonly used to make straws, cereal bags, plastic bottle caps, and yogurt containers. This material is very difficult to recycle because of the many steps required to break it down. You would have to check your local curbside recycling facility to see if it is accepted. There are many great alternatives to plastic straws such as paper, metal, or glass straws.
6-PS (Polystyrene) : PS is found in styrofoam, disposable cutlery, takeout boxes, and packing peanuts. Despite being used so prevalently, it is very difficult to recycle this material because of its light weight. Also, it is important to note that once the material becomes dirty (with food, for example), it cannot be recycled.
7-Other: Items that fall under the “other” category are baby bottles, electric sockets, and water cooler bottles. Plastics with the number 7 are usually a mix of multiple plastics which become nearly impossible to separate, and therefore cannot be recycled.
Although these numbers are small, they play a big part in our environmental consciousness, and it is important for us to understand which plastics are able to be recycled. If possible, look for non-plastic alternatives. But if you are buying something made from plastic, look at the little number and make the best eco-conscious decision!