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Plastic Recycling Symbols Revisited

July 13th, 2009 · 12 Comments

This is actually a spin of an article on plastic recycling symbols I’ve published elsewhere,  I just thought it would do some good to post it here.

I’ve been noticing that most visitors to this blog are brought here by the search engines after they entered the phrase “plastic recycling symbols.” The information here is part of the post “Recycling Symbols” which I published in this blog,  last year.

Have you ever wondered what these stamped icons on plastic containers or plastic bags signify? Once in a while, we find ourselves perplexed about the meaning of these recycling symbols and their link to waste management and health issues.

Plastic recycling symbols indicate the exact types of resin used to manufacture the plastic. These designs are specified in accordance to the international Plastic Coding System, and are regularly portrayed as a number (from 1 to 7) enclosed by a triangle or a plain triangular loop (also known as the Mobius loop), with an acronym of the particular material used, right below the triangle.

Here are brief definitions of all of the 7 recycling logos widely used, at the moment:

1 – PET or PETE (Polyethylene Terephalate Ethylene)

Light weight, low-cost, and easy to fabricate, PET is the most common plastic resin in use today. PET is largely used in soft drink bottles, food containers, and microwaveable food trays, mouth wash bottles, microwaveable food trays, etc.  It can be recycled into paneling, fiber, plastic furniture, and car parts (headliners, luggage racks, door panels, fenders, etc). The demand for this material among recyclers is consistently quite high (even during the recycling market meltdown last year), but at present, the recycling rate for PET has remained low at 20%.

2 – HDPE (High Density Polyethylene)

HDPE is tougher and less susceptible to chemical corrosion, this material presents a relatively meager chance of draining toxins when used as receptacle for food and drinks. It is largely used as containers for staple household chemicals (shampoos, cleaners, etc.), cereal box liners, cologne bottles, motor oil bottles, some trash and shopping bags, etc. HDPE can be recycled into pens, drainage, fencing, recycling containers, laundry detergent bottles, motor oil bottles,  etc.

3 – PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)

PVC has been tagged as a health risk – it has been observed to consistently leach chemicals when used as containers. PVC is usually used for piping, wire coating, parts of medical equipment, window sills, siding, etc. It contains  chlorine and will release toxins if burned. PVC should not be present in food preparation or food packaging. It can be remade into decking, roadway gutters, mats, speed bumps, flooring, cables, etc.

4 – LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene )

Low Density Polyethylene is manufactured into plastic bags, frozen food wrapping, grocery bags, furniture, etc. Tough but also pliant, it is ideal for packaging, insulation, and sealing. LDPE, through many curbside recycling programs, can be reused into trash can liners, shipping envelopes, and floor tiles, plastic lumber, compost bins, etc.

5 – PP (Polypropylene)

PP is most suited for hot fluid receptacles and is also manufactured into yogurt containers, medicine bottles, vehicular battery cases, straws, film packaging, caps, medicine bottles, etc. PP can be reprocessed into bins, brooms, pallets, battery cases, ice scrapers,  etc.

6 – PS (Polystyrene)

Polystyrene is the top material for insulation and is used in foam products like expanded polystyrene (EPS), generally known as styrofoam. EPS, by the way, is the correct designation of the foam we often see in packaging. Styrofoam is a registered brand by Dow Chemicals and pertains to the industrial insulation sheets they manufacture. It is made into disposable food containers, egg cartons, CD cases. PS contains benzene, a human carcinogen and should not be burned. It is reconstituted into insulation, model rail road objects, rulers, floating buoys, new EPS, etc.

7 – OTHER (Polycarbonate)

Recycling symbol 7 – OTHER lumps together materials not belonging to any of the other 6 resin classifications. OTHER may also signify a hybrid resin made up of a combination of those materials. It is generally found in baby feeding containers, flak jackets, camping jugs, certain food product bottles, sunglasses, DVDs, etc. It can be remade into plastic timber and other custom- tailored items.

Not all number 7 plastics are polycarbonate, a few are even organic, plant-based, and compostable. Polycarbonate has become the center of contention in recent years, as it is found to leak BPA (bisphenol A), a hormonal disruptor that may disastrously affect pregnancy and fetal development.

In our present health-conscious world, a rudimentary understanding of the substances and materials that we allow to come into contact with our food or our skin can generally make the difference between a healthy family and a home jeopardized by harmful chemicals and toxins. Though recycling symbols are primarily conceptualized to aid employees in recycling centers (to properly segregate materials) , understanding these symbols is increasingly becoming crucial in protecting our own health and that of our children.

Tags: Plastic Recycling

12 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Yasser (SEO) // Jul 14, 2009 at 10:16 am

    Unfortunately, in my country there is no a recycling policy and we waste a lot of money to manage our own waste! I try to teach my friends but is hard to fight against an entire society

  • 2 Bill R. // Jul 16, 2009 at 9:59 am

    Thanks for the information. We deal with metal recycling all the time, but I find that once “the whistle blows,” I pay little attention.

    This is good summary on plastics and hopefully it’s gotten me up to speed.

    Lastly, I appreciate the way you learned how people are getting to your site. I will have to use that one sometime in the future.


  • 3 Trampoline Enclosure // Jul 17, 2009 at 7:35 am

    I agree Yasser…we have no recycling policy in the UK either. The government likes to think we do. But we dont.

  • 4 business stationary // Jul 18, 2009 at 11:17 am

    Wow, I never knew that is how they were classified. I always thought that it was just one class for all….paper, plastic, cans…. 🙂

  • 5 Fountains Outdoor // Jul 19, 2009 at 1:59 am

    Here in Spain we do have recycling policy and they intend to give a very high fee to people who don’t throw the garbage in the right recycling can. I’ve just received by mail instructions from the government explaining how to recycle.

  • 6 Lady Samsung Allure // Jul 27, 2009 at 6:01 am

    Around here the first initiatives are just getting started on making an active policy to collect used plastics from households. I believe some plastics were already being recycled and if you really wished there must have been some return points, yet an active policy, like there is for glass and paper, was still something unconsidered. That seems to be changing. Yet the annoying thing to me is that you constantly keep collecting trash in different places, you almost need an entire extra room for all that stuff. Also, loads of foodstuffs are packed in plastics and if you go around collecting things, this might deteriorate and make your house smell bad. So you need another type of trashcan and so on and on and on. I’m definitely not against it, but there’s little consideration for practicalities.

  • 7 Zelimir // Aug 3, 2009 at 6:15 am

    Just to drop you a quick note here from Croatia. Plastic recycling is still a thing of the future in this country, together with an array of other “nature preservation” projects, that mostly gather dust on some corrupt politican`s desk.

  • 8 Camisetas // Aug 7, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    Thank you very much for this useful information.
    Please keep on blogging.
    I am looking forward to read your next great article.

  • 9 Pawel // Aug 31, 2009 at 8:17 am

    Here in Germany we have a Recycling policy. But it don’t work very well. Often the valuable waste just goes to a cogeneration plant. This is sad.

  • 10 Transforming Plastic Waste Into Fuel Is Now Possible | Pacebutler Blog // Sep 17, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    […] of the waste material into fuel. Envion says they will take in all types of plastic, except PET (plastic recycling symbol 1), which has a higher recycling value, at present. Three tons of plastic waste could be converted […]

  • 11 Peru Hotels // Nov 6, 2009 at 9:50 am

    i think that if we want a clean environment we should all help recycling, to keep our city’s clean..we all have to work together for a better world..

  • 12 Cuzco Hotel // Dec 4, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    we all should help our enviroment, if there is no Recycling policy .. we all should clean ourselves .. recycling really helps the enviroment