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Casa Verde: Know Your Plastics

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.

Type 3 (V): Vinyl/Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC). Food wrap, vegetable oil bottles, construction materials, shower curtains. Not recyclable, can leach chemical additives and is known to offgass in the air!

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.

For more details, check out the Consumer Recycling Guide, Planet Green, and the Plastics Web.

Join The Conversation
graduatedsqueaks graduatedsqueaks 8 years
I was just at an even in Cambridge, MA, where they had ZERO recycling bins, but plenty of free bottles of water, cans of energy drinks, and plastic cups and glass bottles of beer....I was disappointed, and surprised that there was no program in place for such an event.
gaylag77 gaylag77 9 years
I live in Denver, CO and use ProDisposal as our waste management company, we recently received notice that we can recycle all plastics 1-7 and that we now have a sorting machine so we don't need to sort our recycling either. Now our bin is full for every pick up. Yea!
darkbeauty darkbeauty 9 years
According to the website for the LA recycling, they take all plastics, #1-7.
katedavis katedavis 9 years
I was about to print this and hand it on my fridge when I looked up NYC's recycling guidelines to find the only plastics we can recycle are bottles and jugs whose necks are smaller than their bodies. Regardless of number.
emalove emalove 9 years
Thanks for this, I always forget.
terryt18 terryt18 9 years
Thanks, casa! I couldn't remember what numbers they said were the "bad" plastic. I have a couple of cheap polycarbonate bottles and I don't use them anymore. I'm after an aluminum one now, I think, because I've heard good things. I just need one that will fit in the holder on my cruiser bike. Thanks again for refreshing my memory and for the links!
Home Home 9 years
Hard plastic Nalgene water bottles are made from Lexan, a polycarbonate plastic (#7) known to leach low levels of bisphenol A (BPA), a suspected hormone disruptor. BPA leaching can increase as your bottle ages, so the health risk increases the longer you use it. But, the company does also make water bottles from safer #2, high-density polyethylene (HDPE), and #4, low-density polyethylene (LDPE). The #7 water bottles will be pulled from stores over the next few months, effectively phased out, so if you stop using the bottles you already own, the risk should cease to be an issue.
DCStar DCStar 9 years
I love my Sigg! That said, my area only recycles plastics 1 and 2, so I try very diligently to buy only those types, and get glass or aluminum containers for other products!
katarzina katarzina 9 years
I always wondered what the different numbers meant! Thanks Casa, now I can recycle with confidence!
terryt18 terryt18 9 years
Yeah what about those bottles they said not to use as water bottles b/c they leach chemicals into the water, like the Nalgene bottles?
Swedeybebe Swedeybebe 9 years
i've been searching for a sigg bottle to replace my nalgene. the info about #7 is getting out there, and people are going gaga over sigg's. enough so that the company can't keep up wtih the demand! they had to stop selling them on their site!
j2e1n9 j2e1n9 9 years
Thanks! This helps!
RosaDilia RosaDilia 9 years
Good to know. I'm actually going to print this out and post it in the garage.
lizs lizs 9 years
Excellent post! I've had too many lame roommates and friends who wouldn't believe me that the three arrow logo is an unfortunate coincidence with the recycling logo, and so they contaminated the recycling bin time and time again. I wish my local centers took #5 - so many yogurts and things come in those containers, and there are only so many I can reuse.
Kyley Kyley 9 years
I am feeling kinda lucky that my city free curbside program takes numbers 1-5. It cuts down on my needing to read the numbers on the bottom of packages! Go Grand Rapids!
sweetpeabrina sweetpeabrina 9 years
Great post, Casa. I'm not perfect at recycling but I do as much as I can. I guess now I have to find out what types of plastic my recycling center accepts.
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