Plastic recycling, the process of recovering plastic and reprocessing it to create new products, can vary greatly from state to state. Who collects the old plastic and what can be recycled is determined by each city or county on an individual basis. The only constant is the sorting system — the plastic recycling numbers that identify each type of plastic and designate it for new life versus a landfill.
In 1998, the Society of Plastics Engineers created a numbering system to identify the various types of plastics for recycling. These plastic recycling numbers are called the resin identification code, and basically describes the polymer (molecule) type or type of plastic, and consequently, what it can be used for. The rating system goes from 1- 7.
Here is the breakdown of the Plastic Recycling Numbers:
PET 1: Polyethylene Terephthalate; can be used for liquid bottles, like water or soft drinks, or peanut butter jars
PE-HD 2: High Density Polyethylene; can be used for milk or juice bottles or trash bags
PVC 3: Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC); can be used for PVC piping, juice bottles or cling wrap
PE-LD 4: Low Density Polyethylene; can be used for flexible items, like freezer bags, flexible lids, or squeezable bottles
PP 5: Polypropylene; can be used for microwavable disposable wares like storage or takeout, disposable cups and plates, and yogurt containers
PS 6: Polystyrene; can be used for packing peanuts, egg cartons or disposable cutlery
O 7: Other plastic types, like polycarbonate or ABS; can be use for electronic casing or beverage bottles
The plastic recycling numbers indicate what specific types of plastics can be recycled. It’s important to contact your local recycling center because not all facilities recycle all types of plastic. — especially if the processing costs are high or demand is low. Try Earth911.com to find your local center if you’re unsure of who to contact.
If your recycling facility only accepts certain types of plastics, refer to the plastic recycling numbers on the item to sort the salvageable plastics. This not only reduces costs and processing time for your recycling facility, but it cuts down on the fuel and energy used to transport the non-salvageable items — first to the recycling center and then to the landfill.
What do the numbers on plastic bottles really mean to you as a consumer? Obviously, we can use the identification numbers to determine if an item is recyclable. In addition the recycling numbers are a quick and easy way to see which type of plastic you are purchasing. All plastics are not created equal. Some forms should be avoided for health reasons. We’ll discuss the so-called “safe plastics” in a future post.