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Recycling Plastic: What All the Numbers Mean

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Make your recycling count

You've seen the numbers on the bottom of plastic items you bring home, but you may not know why they're there or what they mean. Knowing the numbers can help your family recycle properly and reduce your impact on the environment.

Plastic products and containers are numbered from one to seven. The number indicates the composition of the plastic and whether the item can be recycled in your neighborhood recycling program.

Plastic 1 — polyethylene terephthalate (PET)

This is the most common and widely used type of plastic. Many clear water bottles, soda bottles, peanut butter, salad dressing and vegetable oil containers are made of this type. Almost all community recycling programs accept PET. Upon recycling it goes into paneling, fleece fabric and plastic containers.

Plastic 2 — high-density polyethylene (HDPE)

Also common in households, HDPE is thicker plastic. Opaque containers such as detergent, shampoo and bleach bottles are made from it. HDPE is accepted by most community recycling programs, and after recycling it provides material for pens, fencing, benches, lumber and detergent bottles.

Plastic 3 — polyvinyl chloride (PVC)

When you think of PVC plastic, plumbing probably comes to mind. This thick plastic typically makes up plumbing parts, but it's also used for food containers and bottles. Most community recycling programs will not accept items made of PVC.

Plastic 4 — low-density polyethylene (LDPE)

LDPE is often used in plastic grocery bags, but it can also be found in food wrappers, bread bags and squeezable bottles. Most community recycling programs will not accept LDPE for recycling (although this is slowly changing), but some retailers do collect used grocery bags for re-use.

Plastic 5 — polypropylene

This type of plastic mostly makes up yogurt, syrup and ketchup containers. It is available for recycling through most community recycling programs. When recycled, the material is turned into rakes, trays, pallets and bins.

Plastic 6 — polystyrene or Styrofoam

Styrofoam is commonly used for egg cartons, disposable plates and cups, and carry-out containers. It is very seldom recycled and not accepted by most recycling programs. Because of this, many fast food restaurants have replaced Styrofoam containers with environmentally friendly cardboard.

Plastic 7 — miscellaneous

Plastic items with this number don't fit into any other category. They may be a composite of several different types of plastics and are not distinguishable as one type. Technology products like computer cases and music devices fall into this category. These items can be recycled on occasion, but usually through special service providers and not community recycling programs.

Knowing your plastic can help your family recycle in a way that is helpful to your community, while reducing the amount of trash thrown in landfills.

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