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PLASTIC RECYCLING CODES
(Resin Identification Codes)

The following list of Plastic Recycling Codes or Resin Identification Codes was voluntarily presented by the Society of The Plastics Industry (SPI) in 1988.

These codes are numbers enclosed by the recycling symbol and are usually found on the bottom of a plastic product. Knowing what these codes stand for can tell us several things:

  • The toxic chemicals that might be used in the plastic.
  • How likely the plastic is to leach out.
  • How bio-degradable the plastic is.
  • How safe the plastic is.

If a code is not present on a plastic container, the manufacturer should be contacted for information.

CODE #1
Polyethylene Terephthalate
(PET or PETE)

  • Recycle: Picked up by most curbside recycling programs. Is inexpensive, lightweight, and easy to recycle. Unfortunately, only approximately 20% are being recycled.
  • Properties:
  1. Usually thin, clear, and tough.
  2. Has good gas and moisture barrier properties, and is resistant to heat.
  • Found in: One of the most commonly used plastics in consumer products. Most common for single-use bottled beverages. Used in soda, water, juice, and beer bottles, ketchup, salad dressings and vegetable oil containers, cosmetics packaging, household cleaner bottles, plastic peanut butter and jelly and jam containers, and mouthwash bottles.
  • Toxicity:
  1. Can leach the toxic metal antimony (used during its manufacture), especially the longer an item sits on a shelf or in a fridge.
  2. Brominated compounds can also leach in PET bottles. Bromine is a central nervous system depressant and can trigger symptoms such as acute paranoia and other psychotic symptoms.
  3. Only intended for one time use. Difficult to decontaminate and proper cleaning requires harmful chemicals.
  4. Does not contain BPA or Phthalates but do not reheat. (Even though the name contains the word 'phthalate,' the chemical structure is different).
  5. When used for carpet fibers, it is known as Polyester.
  6. Is inert and does not react with food or beverages. Does not biologically or chemically degrade with use.
  • Recycled Products: This plastic can be recycled once into such secondary products as fabric, luggage, plastic lumber, tote bags, furniture, pillow stuffing, life jackets, paneling, and polar fleece. Cleaned and recycled PET flakes and pellets are used for spinning fiber for carpet yarns (polyester).

CODE #2
High Density Polyethylene (HDPE)


  • Recycle: Picked up by most curbside recycling programs, though some only accept those containers with a neck.
  • Properties:
  1. A polyethylene thermoplastic made from petroleum.
  2. Usually thick and opaque, it is lightweight and strong and has good barrier properties and stiffness making it well suited to packaging products with a short shelf life such as milk.
  3. Also has good chemical resistance so suitable for detergents and bleach.
  4. Very hard-wearing, does not break down under exposure to sunlight or extremes of heating or freezing.
  • Found in: Milk, water, and juice bottles, and bottles for cleaning supplies and shampoo, grocery bags, some trash bags, cereal box liners, motor oil bottles, yogurt and butter tubs, bleach and detergent bottles, folding chairs and tables.
  • Toxicity: 
  1. Considered a low-hazard plastic with a low risk of leaching.
  2. Some may release estrogenic chemicals (substances that mimic estrogen).
  • Recycled Products: Can be reused. Can be recycled once into pens, recycling containers, laundry detergent bottles, oil bottles, and any other products which require durability and weather-resistance such as fencing, picnic tables, doghouses, drainage pipe, lumber, etc., as well as the same items that can be recycled from #1.       

CODE #3
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

  • Recycle: Seldom accepted by curbside recycling programs, though some recycling plants may accept it.
  • Properties:
  1. Can be rigid or flexible.
  2. Is resistant to grease, oil, and chemicals.
  • Found in: Shrink wrap, bags for bedding, deli and meat wrap, commercial grade plastic wrap, plastic toys, table cloths, plumbing pipes, garden hoses, window cleaner and detergent bottles, shampoo bottles, cooking oil bottles, wire jacketing, medical equipment, siding, windows, bibs, shower curtains, waterbeds, pool toys, inflatable structures, clothing, vinyl IV bags used in neo-natal intensive care, car interiors, vinyl flooring, padded play-mat floors for children, etc. PVC flooring has been linked to chronic diseases including allergies, asthma, and autism.
  • Toxicity: 
  1. AVOID THIS TOXIC PLASIC! 
  2. The manufacture of PVC creates dioxin, a powerful carcinogen to humans, animals, and the environment.
  3. May also contain phthalates to soften it. These are hormone disrupting chemicals such as DEHP, linked to male reproductive problems and birth defects, as well as loss of bone mass and liver problems. 
  4. Never cook with or burn this plastic!
  5. Do not let the plastic touch the food.
  • Recycled Products: Cable, paneling, flooring, decks, speed bumps, mud flaps, and roadway gutters. Less than 1% of PVC products can be repurposed and PVC products should not be reused for applications with food or for children’s use.

CODE #4
LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene)

  • Recycle: Curbside recycling programs may not pick up this plastic, but more are starting to accept it. Reusable but not always recyclable. Can be returned to many stores for recycling.
  • Properties:
  1. A thermoplastic made from petroleum.
  2. Translucent or opaque, tough and flexible.
  3. Because of its relative transparency, it is popular for use in applications where heat sealing is necessary.
  4. Because of its toughness, it is used mostly in film applications.
  • Found in: Most squeezable bottles, shopping bags, tote bags, clothing, furniture, carpet, frozen food, bread bags, some food wraps, dry cleaning bags, newspapers, fresh produce, household garbage bags, frozen foods, juice cartons, paper milk cartons, hot and cold beverage cups.
  • Toxicity:
  1. This plastic is considered a low hazard.
  2. It does not contain BPA.
  3. May pose risks of leaching some estrogenic chemicals.
  • Recycled Products: Compost bins, paneling, trash can liners and cans, floor tiles, shipping envelopes, plastic lumber, landscaping ties.

CODE #5
Polypropylene (PP)
Thermoplastic Polymer

  • Recycle: Increasingly accepted by curbside recycle programs.
  • Properties: 
  1. Hard but flexible, strong, and lightweight.
  2. Has good chemical resistance and is resistant to grease, oil, and moisture.
  3. Has a high melting point.
  • Found in: Ice cream and yogurt containers, drinking straws, syrup bottles, ketchup bottles, salad bar containers, disposable diapers, plastic cups & baby bottles, medicine bottles, kitchenware, microwavable plastic containers and lids.
  • Toxicity:
  1. One of the safer plastics. Considered safe for reuse.
  2. Has high melting point so often used for containers that must accept hot liquid.
  3. Unlikely to leach chemicals, but still could.
  4. Most are microwavable and dishwasher safe. IMPORTANT: this only means the plastic will not warp when heated, not that it is a healthy practice. It is always better to use glass containers to heat foods and to hand wash plastic.
  • Recycled Products: Rakes, bins, pallets, trays, brooms, brushes, landscape borders, auto battery cases and cables, bins, pallets, signal lights, ice scrapers, and bicycle racks, carpet.

CODE #6
Polystyrene (Styrofoam)
Petroleum based


  • Recycle: Extremely difficult to recycle and contributes to about 35% of US landfill material. Most recycling programs will not accept it.
  • Properties:
  1. Either hard or used to form Styrofoam.
  2. Structurally weak and ultra-lightweight, so breaks up easily and is dispersed throughout the environment to the demise of many marine species who ingest it.
  3. Has a relatively low melting point.
  • Found in: Disposable cups, plates, bowls, take-out containers, meat trays, CD and DVD cases, egg cartons, aspirin bottles, insulation, peanut foam chips, underlayment for laminate flooring.
  • Toxicity: Leaches styrene into food especially when heated. Styrene is a neurotoxin which can damage the nervous system and is linked to cancer. Long term exposure to small quantities of styrene can cause many problems and is classified as a possible human carcinogen by the EPA. Never reheat in microwave to avoid leaching styrene.
  • Recycled Products: Egg cartons, vents, foam packing, and insulation, light switch plates, rulers, and take-out containers.

CODE #7 
Other, Miscellaneous
(includes Polycarbonate, Bioplastic, and Acrylic)


  • Recycle: May or may not be recycled since this code is used as a catch-all designation for products made from other plastic resins not included in the 1st 6 codes or those made from a combination of plastics.
  1. Can also include new bio-based compostable green plastics developed to replace polycarbonates, such as those made from corn, potatoes, rice, or tapioca known as bio-based plastics. These bio-based plastics may have the initials ‘PLA’ near the recycling symbol and may also say ‘compostable.’  Plastics with the PLA symbol can be reused but is best not to.
  2. NOTE: Bio-based plastics CANNOT go through the normal plastic recycling stream. They should be placed in the compost bin, not the recycle bin, since they are not recyclable. Do not heat them in the microwave or subject them to other extreme stresses, such as being kept in a hot car.
  • Properties: Depends on what types of resins or combination of resins are used to manufacture them.
  • Found in: 3 and 5 gallon water bottles, sports bottles, clear plastic cutlery, lining of metal food cans, sunglasses, iPod, DVD, and computer cases, nylon, bullet-proof materials, signs and displays, certain food containers.
  • Toxicity: Can contain BPA or BPS (Bisphenol-S), endocrine disrupters. These play havoc with our health. Polycarbonate is a plastic made from BPA and is found in electrical wiring, CD/DVD cases, baby bottles, and 3 and 5 gallon reusable bottles.
  • Recycled Products: Plastic lumber and other custom-made products.

SUMMARY

  • Codes 2, 4, and 5 are the plastics considered to be the safest in terms of human and animal consumption.
  • Code 1 is considered safe, but it is best to avoid this plastic.
  • Codes 3, 6, and 7 are generally not recyclable.

If you cannot avoid using some plastics…

  • Limit your use of plastics.
  • Choose glass when you can.
  • Always recycle or throw away containers once they start to crack or break down.
  • Do not use them in microwave or put them in the dishwasher.
  • Do not wash them with harsh chemicals.

For more information on reducing plastic as well as sustainability in general, a good reference is Sustainability Starts at Home – How to Save Money While Saving the Planet.


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130 Cecil Malone Drive Ithaca, NY 14850

607-272-1566

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CONTENTS


CODE #1
Polyethylene Terephthalate
(PET or PETE)


CODE #2
High Density Polyethylene (HDPE)


CODE #3
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)


CODE #4
LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene)


CODE #5
Polypropylene (PP)
Thermoplastic Polymer


CODE #6
Polystyrene (Styrofoam)
Petroleum based


CODE #7 
Other, Miscellaneous
(includes Polycarbonate, Bioplastic, and Acrylic)


SUMMARY