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.
(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.
thin, clear, and tough.
- 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.
leach the toxic metal antimony (used during its manufacture), especially
the longer an item sits on a shelf or in a fridge.
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.
intended for one time use. Difficult to decontaminate and proper cleaning
requires harmful chemicals.
- Does not
contain BPA or Phthalates but do not reheat. (Even though the name contains the word 'phthalate,' the chemical structure is different).
- When used for carpet fibers, it is known as Polyester.
- 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).
High Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
- Recycle: Picked up by most curbside
recycling programs, though some only accept those containers with a neck.
- A polyethylene
thermoplastic made from petroleum.
- 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.
- Also has good chemical resistance so suitable
for detergents and bleach.
- 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.
- Considered a low-hazard
plastic with a low risk of leaching.
- 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.
- Recycle: Seldom
accepted by curbside recycling programs, though some recycling plants may
- Can be
rigid or flexible.
- 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.
- AVOID THIS
- The manufacture of PVC creates dioxin, a powerful
carcinogen to humans, animals, and the environment.
- 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.
cook with or burn this plastic!
- 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.
LDPE (Low Density
- 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.
thermoplastic made from petroleum.
- Translucent or opaque, tough and
- Because of its relative transparency, it is popular for use in
applications where heat sealing is necessary.
- 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.
plastic is considered a low hazard.
- It does not contain BPA.
- 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.
- Recycle: Increasingly accepted
by curbside recycle programs.
- Hard but flexible, strong,
- Has good chemical resistance and is resistant to grease, oil, and moisture.
- Has a high
- 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.
- One of the
safer plastics. Considered safe for reuse.
- Has high melting
point so often used for containers that must accept hot liquid.
to leach chemicals, but still could.
- 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
- Recycle: Extremely
difficult to recycle and contributes to about 35% of US landfill material.
Most recycling programs will not accept it.
hard or used to form Styrofoam.
- 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.
- Has a relatively low
- 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.
(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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- Recycled Products: Plastic
lumber and other custom-made products.
- 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
- Always recycle or throw away containers once they start to crack or
- Do not use them in microwave or put them in the dishwasher.
- Do not wash them with
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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