What Do Recycling Symbols Mean?

Recyclops has created this guide on what recycling symbols mean and how you can tell the difference between them.

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What Do Recycling Symbols on Plastics Mean & How to Tell the Difference.

Today, it’s easy to be confused by where your recyclables go and how to make sure you’re actually recycling correctly. One of the ways to help you determine where your recycling should end up is in the form of recycling symbols. Many times, however, this doesn’t solve the problem as many people aren’t sure what these symbols mean.

At Recyclops we continue to work to educate our customers and communities about recycling and best practices you can use on a daily basis. That’s why we have put together this guide on what the recycling symbols mean and how you can tell the difference between them.

What Are Recycling Symbols?
Looking at the bottom of most plastic containers you can find a small number inside the three arrow triangle recycling symbol. This number is a reference to what type of plastic the container is made of and is called a recycling symbol.
Recycling Symbol - Styrofoam
Plastic is composed of different molecules or sets of molecules depending on the type of plastic materials used. Different molecules do not mix when plastics are recycled, imagine trying to recycle paper and glass together, it doesn’t make too much sense. For this reason they need to be separated and the recycling numbers are a uniform way of classifying the different types of plastic and it aids recyclers in the sorting process. It’s important to know that other numbers are found on the bottom of plastic containers, but only numbers inside the recycling symbol are valid for recycling purposes.
What Are the Different Types of Recycling Symbols?
The recycling code consists of a numbered list going from 1 to 7. Below the numbers, you can sometimes also find the abbreviations for the plastic-type (PETE, HDPE, etc.). The most widely accepted plastics for recycling are number 1 and 2, also most plastic containers are type 1 and 2. Below is a list of the numbers, full names of the plastics they refer to, and some examples of common containers made of that product.
1) Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE)
Recycling Symbol 1 - PETE

The easiest plastic to recycle and most commonly found in plastic water/soda bottles and some food packaging. PETE is commonly recycled into fibers or polar fleece. It is not recommended for reuse which means it ends up in the recycling stream quickly. PETE plastic is recyclable and about 25% of PETE bottles in the US today are recycled. The plastic is crushed and then shredded into small flakes which are then reprocessed to make new PETE bottles, or spun into polyester fiber.

Find out more about where your recycling goes.

2) High Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
Recycling Symbol 2 - HDPE

This kind of plastic is usually colored or opaque and can be found in milk jugs and detergent or household cleaner bottles. HDPE can easily be recycled into plastic lumber, more bottles or drainage pipes and is considered one of the safest forms of plastic. However, since only about 30-35% of HDPE plastic used in America gets recycled each year, it’s wise to use as little as possible. To cut down, consider replacing your disposable produce bags with reusable alternatives.

Find out more about how to start living a more sustainable lifestyle.

3) Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
Recycling Symbol 3 - PVC

Found in shampoo bottles, medical plastics, some dog toys, and window trim, this plastic is typically not used for household items that can be consumed as it can contain phthalates. PVC is usually recycled into paneling, flooring, cables and decks. Almost all products using PVC require virgin material for their construction; less than 1% of PVC material is recycled. While some PCV products can be repurposed, PVC products should not be reused for applications with food or for children’s use.

Find out more about what plastics Recyclops uses and why.

4) Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
Recycling Symbol 4 - LDPE

Bottles you can squeeze like shampoo or condiment bottles are made from LDPE. LDPE is considered less toxic than other plastics, and relatively safe for use. It is not commonly recycled, however, although this is changing in many communities today as plastic recycling programs like Recyclops gear up to handle this material. When recycled, LDPE plastic is used for plastic lumber, landscaping boards, garbage can liners and even our Recyclops bags. Products made using recycled LDPE are not as hard or rigid as those made using recycled HDPE plastic.

To cut down on the amount of LDPE that you consume, try replacing your plastic grocery bags with fabric alternatives and taking a cloth bag to your local bakery the next time you buy a loaf of bread. You can also replace plastic sandwich bags with platinum silicone alternatives, which are heat safe.

5) Polypropylene (PP)
Recycling Symbol 5 - PP
PP is durable and versatile. This is usually found in medical bottles, yogurt tubs, cereal box liners, bottle caps, some ropes and condiment bottles. PP can be recycled into brushes, battery cases and bike racks. Only about 3% of PP products are currently being recycled in the US. To cut down on how much PP you consume, opt for reusable straws instead of plastic ones, reusable water bottles, and cloth diapers.
6) Polystyrene (PS)
Recycling Symbol 6 - PS
Polystyrene is an inexpensive, lightweight and easily formed plastic with a wide variety of uses. It is most often used to make disposable foam drinking cups, take-out “clamshell” food containers, egg cartons, plastic picnic cutlery, foam packaging and those ubiquitous “peanut” foam chips used to fill shipping boxes to protect the contents. Polystyrene is also widely used to make rigid foam insulation and underlay sheeting for laminate flooring used in home construction. Because polystyrene is structurally weak and ultra-lightweight, it breaks up easily and is dispersed readily throughout the natural environment. Beaches all over the world have bits of polystyrene lapping at the shores, and an untold number of marine species have ingested this plastic with immeasurable consequences to their health. To eliminate polystyrene from your trash, try a reusable coffee cup, compostable or reusable picnic cutlery, and stainless steel takeaway containers.
7) BPA, Polycarbonate, Lexan etc. (PC)
Recycling Symbol 7 - O

The #7 category was designed as a catch-all for polycarbonate (PC) and “other” plastics, so reuse and recycling protocols are not standardized within this category. Of primary concern with #7 plastics, however, is the potential for chemical leaching into food or drink products packaged in polycarbonate containers made using BPA (Bisphenol A). BPA is a xenoestrogen, a known endocrine disruptor.

A new generation of compostable plastics, made from bio-based polymers like corn starch, is being developed to replace polycarbonates. These are also included in category #7, which can be confusing to the consumer. These compostable plastics have the initials “PLA” on the bottom near the recycling symbol. Some may also say “Compostable.”

To avoid chemicals leaking into your foods from food packaging, try going homemade and storing your leftovers (or your lunches) in platinum silicone or stainless steel.

Start Recycling with Recyclops.

Our team at Recyclops makes it easy to recycle today straight from the convenience of your home. With our service, you know that your recyclables are going to a designated recycling facility and not a landfill. Learn more about where your recycling goes here

Depending on your location, recycling is as easy as putting all your materials in one or more bags (depending on how many you have) and putting them right on your doorstep or curbside. Your local Recyclops driver will be there to pick up your materials and ensure they arrive at the destination. And don’t worry about making space for another bin, Recyclops bags or carts come with all our services and pickups come at your convenience. 

We want to make recycling easy and simple, and that starts with recycling on your schedule. 

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