You may have noticed some numbers surrounded by chasing-arrow symbols on consumer packaging like water bottles, plastic bags, bottle caps, toys, etc. If you have, good! That's step one. But, do you know what they mean? Contrary to what you may think, these icons do not mean that the products can be recycled, or that they're made of recycled plastic; they actually identify which types of plastic a product is made of. Once you know this, you can determine if it can be recycled or not.
Unfortunately, not all plastic can be recycled. Most recycling centers accept types one and two, types four and five are less commonly recycled, and types six and seven are rarely, if not virtually never, recycled. For a rundown,
Type 1 (PETE): Polyethylene Terephthalate. Soft drink and water bottles, some waterproof packaging. Commonly recycled.
Type 2 (HDPE): High-Density Polyethylene. Milk, detergent, and oil bottles, toys, and some plastic bags. Commonly recycled.
To find out the rest,
Type 4 (LDPE): Low-Density Polyethylene. Many plastic bags, squeezable bottles, garment bags. Recycled at most centers but not curbside programs.
Type 5 (PP): Polypropylene. Refrigerated containers, some bags, most bottle tops, some carpets, some food wrap. Recycled at most centers but not curbside programs.
Type 6 (PS): Polystyrene. Throwaway utensils, meat-packing, take-out containers, protective packing. Recycled at some centers but not curbside programs, and banned in some cities.
Type 7 (OTHER): Composite plastic. Nalgene bottles, milk cartons, toothpaste tubes. Can't be recycled, must be landfilled.
That wasn't so hard, was it? Now if you can just keep these in mind when shopping and stick to more commonly recycled products and packaging, you can help trim down those landfills. Of course, avoiding plastic all together would be best, but we all know that's a pretty difficult task as it stands.