Recycling Plastics - What the Numbers Mean

Plastic Facts

  • All plastic starts out as petroleum.
  • Plastic bottles will take over 500 years to decompose.
  • Plastic makes up 8% of trash by weight, but 24% by volume.
  • According to the U.S. EPA, plastic recycling results in significant energy savings compared with production of new plastics using virgin material.
  • Recycling plastic takes 88% less energy than making plastic from raw materials.
  • One ton of recycled plastic saves:             
    • 5,774 kWh of electricity
    • 685 gallons of oil
    • 98 million Btu’s of energy
    • 30 cubic yards of landfill space

 

What the Numbers Mean

Plastic Numbers

Have you ever wondered what the numbers, or recycling symbols mean on the bottom of plastic bottles and containers?

Recyclable plastic typically comes with a little recycling symbol printed on the bottom and depending on the product, there might be a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7 stamped in the center of the symbol. The number is a resin identification code developed by the Society of the Plastics Industry to identify what materials/chemicals are in each plastic item, how biodegradable it is, the level of leaching, and for sorting purposes.

Not all plastic goods are identified by code numbers.  Some products do not fit into the current numbering system.  There are actually thousands of different plastic resins that are developed to suit a products needs.

The following is information on the various resin identification codes: 

  • Plastic #1 - PETE or PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) 
    • Used in production of plastic water and soft drink bottles, salad dressing containers, and plastic peanut butter jars.
    • Can be recycled into fiber fill for sleeping bags, carpet fibers, and rope.
  • Plastic #2 - HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) 
    • Used in production of milk jugs, butter tubs, detergent bottles, shampoo bottles, and motor oil bottles.
    • Can be recycled into flower pots, trash cans, traffic barrier cones, and detergent bottles. 
  • Plastic #3 - V (Polyvinyl Chloride) 
    • Used in production of shampoo bottles, clear food packaging, cooking oil bottles, medical equipment, and piping.
    • Can be recycled into drainage and irrigation pipes. 
  • Plastic #4 - LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene) 
    • Used in production of grocery bags, bread bags, shrink wrap, margarine tubs, clothing, and carpet. 
    • Can be recycled into new grocery bags. 
  • Plastic #5 - PP (Polypropylene) 
    • Used in production of most yogurt containers, some pancake syrup bottles, and bottle caps.  
    • Can be recycled into plastic lumber, bins, car battery cases, brooms, and ice scrapers. 
  • Plastic #6 - PS (Polystyrene) (aka Styrofoam)
    • Used in production of disposable hot cups, packaging materials (peanuts), and meat trays. 
    • Can be recycled into egg cartons, foam packing, and insulation.  
  • Plastic #7 - Other
    • Usually a mixture of various plastics.
    • Used in production of sunglasses, iPod cases, computer cases, and nylon.
    • Can be recycled into plastic lumber and other custom-made products.