Plastic materials are used heavily in the packaging industry, contributing to the growing pile of plastic waste that is extremely harmful to the environment. Almost all plastics are recyclable, but with so many different types of plastic used for a variety of packages and containers, it can often be difficult to determine which can be recycled. Fortunately, plastics are broken down into seven major categories, which are then labeled with numerals and the familiar symbol of arrows forming a triangle of recycling symbols. Read on to learn what each of these symbols and numbers mean.
(1) PET, or polyethylene terephthalate: Often used for water, soda and beer bottles, peanut butter containers, salad dressing, food trays, and other types of food containers. Can be recycled into furniture, carpet, polar fleece, tote bags and more. This type of plastic is lightweight and easy to recycle.
(2) HDPE, or high density polyethylene: Commonly used for milk jugs, juice bottles, motor oil bottles, butter and yogurt tubs, cereal box liners, and some trash and shopping bags. Can be recycled into laundry detergent bottles, pens, floor tile, recycling containers, picnic tables and more. HDPE is a versatile, readily recyclable plastic with low risk of leaching.
(3) PVC, or polyvinyl chloride: Found in chemical household cleaner bottles, shampoo bottles, clear food packaging, piping, construction materials and more. Rarely recycled and in low demand by recyclers. PVC is a durable plastic material that can also be harmful – burning PVC releases toxins due to its chlorine content.
(4) LDPE , or low density polyethylene: Widely used for squeezable bottles, frozen food, tote bags, shopping bags, stretch films, clothing, furniture, carpet and more. Can be recycled into trash can liners and cans, paneling, shipping envelopes and compost bins. More communities are beginning to accept this flexible plastic into recycling programs.
(5) PP, or polypropylene: Often used for ketchup bottles, caps, straws, microwavable food trays, yogurt containers and other packaging materials. Can be recycled into battery cables, brooms, ice scrapers, bins, pallets and trays. With a high melting point, PP is often used for containing hot liquid.
(6) PS, or polystyrene: Typically used for meat trays, disposable plates and cups, egg cartons, carry-out containers, CD jackets, foam trays and plastic cutlery. Difficult to recycle and not widely accepted by recyclers. PS is most commonly known for its use in foam, or Styrofoam, products.
(7) Other: Miscellaneous plastics are used for 3 gallon or 5 gallon water bottles, sunglasses, iPod and computer cases, signs and nylon, and are not commonly recycled.
Be sure to check what kind of plastic you’re using before you recycle!
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