Plastic Numbers – What Do They Mean?

What’s a Plastic #5?  What’s PET?

 

All plastic should have a number stamped it.  This number indicates what type of plastic it’s made from, and therefore how it can be recycled.  It’s a different process for different types of material, and some are more economical than others – that’s why recyclers need to know which type.

Here’s what the numbers mean:

plastic-recycling-symbol-1 plastic-recycling-symbol-2 plastic-recycling-symbol-3 plastic-recycling-symbol-4
plastic-recycling-symbol-5 plastic-recycling-symbol-6 plastic-recycling-symbol-7

 

  Made From Advantages Used for Recycled used for
1 PET or PETEPolyethelyne terephthalate Keeps out moisture, clear and tough Plastic bottles for soft drinks, water, beer, salad dressings; peanut butter and jam jars Clothing, carpets, luggage, some food and drinks containers, polar fleece, tote bags
2 HDPE High density Polyethelyne Resistant to moisture and some chemicals, shapes easily, permeable to gas Containers for milk, juice, water, shampoo, detergent, margarine, motor oil Shampoo bottles, buckets, flower pots, benches, fencing, picnic tables
3 PVCPolyvinyl chloride Versatile, strong, easy to blend Blood bags, medical tubing, window frames, carpet backing, non-food blister packaging, vinyl records, pipes Garden hoses, traffic cones, floor mats and tiles, mudflaps, decks, cables, speed-bumps
4 LDPE Low density polyethylene Transparent, tough, flexible, good sealant, barrier to moisture Squeezable bottles, dry-cleaning bags, frozen food bags, flexible container lids, cling film, carpets, clothing Furniture, floor tiles, rubbish bins, compost bins, shipping envelopes, panelling
5 PP Polypropylene Strong, tough, barrier to moisture, resistant to heat, chemicals, grease and oil Reusable microwaveable ware, kitchenware, yogurt containers, margarine tubs, microwaveable disposable take-away containers, disposable cups and plates, bottle caps, straws Bike racks, cases for car batteries and battery cables, brooms, ice scrapers, pallets, signal lights
6 PS Polystyrene Excellent insulator Aspirin bottles, hot drinks cups, egg cartons, packing peanuts; disposable cups, plates, trays and cutlery; disposable take-away containers; Desk trays, thermometers, rulers, insulation, light switch plates, foam packing, take-away containers
7 O Other (often polycarbonate) Combination of polymers Beverage bottles, baby milk bottles, CDs, “unbreakable” glazing, music player and computer housings, lenses for sunglasses and prescription glasses, car headlamps, riot shields, instrument panels, large water bottles, bullet-proof materials, nylon Certain bottles and plastic items

So now you know that the “gimme 5” slogan is used to collect polypropylene items for recycling.

Next:  what the numbers mean to YOU.

P.S.  Did you notice in the chart above that the caps for plastic water and soda bottles are a different type of plastic from the bottles?  More on that later…..

 

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21 comments… add one

Your thoughts and opinions are important to me! Do tell me in the comments below!

  • bob l 14th October 2011, 9:55 PM

    what would these be? Shatterproof Glasses via Joanne Hudson – they say that they are a PETG polymer and they tout them as “green”

    Reply
    • Clare Delaney 15th October 2011, 7:35 AM

      Hi Bob, PETG is the same basic process as PET with glycol added as a modifyer. PET plastic is indeed recyclable, and offers fewer health hazards than other types of plastic such as PVC. In an ideal green world of course, we’d move away from plastic – due to the fact that it’s made from petroleum as well as contributing hugely to litter (not everyone recycles, plastic doesn’t bio-degrade, and it kills birds and animals who eat it, thinking it’s food). But plastic is (normally) cheap and is so widely used now that its difficult to do without. To answer your question, those glasses are “greener” than other plastic types, but plastic isn’t particularly green. It’s probably better to buy those glasses for holiday or poolside use, than polystyrene disposables though. Thanks for your comment!

      Reply
  • Mil 7th October 2011, 6:39 AM

    Thanks for explaining all those numbers as I am confused which can be recycled or not. Looking forward to the answer to this question (and ending all arguments about the GOOD number vs BAD numbers).

    Reply
  • Dennis Perry 5th October 2011, 6:27 PM

    Very helpful discussion. It’s nice to know what the different types of plastics can be recycled into.

    Dennis

    Reply
  • Internet Personals Ad Writers 5th October 2011, 8:17 AM

    Hi Green Goddess,

    Thank you for introducing the whole spectrum of the plastic bottle numbers. Looking forward to when you tell us what they all mean and what we can DO with them.

    Happy Dating and Relationships,

    April Braswell

    Reply
  • The Knowledge Stylist 5th October 2011, 4:33 AM

    Clare, great stuff. I feel as though I get closer to my PhD in being eco-friendly everytime I visit your site!

    TKS

    Reply
  • Kevin Bettencourt 5th October 2011, 1:56 AM

    I always wondered why the cap and the bottle weren’t made of the same plastic. What’s more, in my area we can’t put the cap in for recycling.

    Reply
  • Body Language 5th October 2011, 1:52 AM

    Thanks for clearing this all up Clare, very useful!

    Looking forward to the bottle cap series on recycle #’s!

    Mark Hogan

    Reply
  • Cherie Miranda 5th October 2011, 12:05 AM

    Thank you so much, Clare! I knew those codes meant something, but I didn’t know how to read and interpret all of them. Great info!

    Cherie Miranda

    Reply
  • Michael D Walker 4th October 2011, 11:29 PM

    I’m assuming this is printed on the bottom of the item? Haven’t been aware of the 5 system before but glad to know there’s a system in place.

    Michael

    Reply
  • Sonya Lenzo 4th October 2011, 9:43 PM

    I knew about them in a general way because some some recycling centers I have used will say they only take certain #s…..so I have learned to look for the numbers. In my experience the numbers were often tiny and hard to read, leaving me doubt that any actualy read them…..But I had NO idea what the numbers meant….thanks for the info!
    Sonya Lenzo

    Reply
  • Neil Dhawan 4th October 2011, 8:45 PM

    Clare,

    Thank you for a REAL breakdown on what those numbers on the bottom of plastic bottles mean. I had someone tell me that the numbers stood for how many times you could reuse the bottle ( true story! ). Now you’ve got me curious about the bottle caps …

    Stay Amazing and Do Extraordinary Things, Neil

    Reply
  • Rob Malone 4th October 2011, 6:29 PM

    Thanks Clare – great breakdown on the numbers. I heard once that the number stood for how often the plastic had been recycled and that really never mad sense to me. I now understand the meaning of the numbers and why they are important to the recycler.

    Reply
  • John Moulder 4th October 2011, 3:16 PM

    Clare , thanks for the explanation of the numbers . I have to admit I hadn’t noticed any numbers on plastic bottles . I had better go and have a look .

    Reply
  • Eva Palmer 4th October 2011, 1:59 PM

    I never asked myself about those numbers!
    It makes perfect sense!!
    Thanks Clare!

    Reply
  • About body language 4th October 2011, 11:18 AM

    Clare, I never really noticed these symbols until I saw you blog on being eco friendly. I went to the storage area where I keep the cleaners and sure enough they were there.
    Scott Sylvan Bell
    The body language
    Now go implement!

    Reply
  • Annie Born 4th October 2011, 10:26 AM

    This is simply excellent information.
    You are caring for every part of our environment!
    Looking forward to tomorrow!
    Create a great day!
    Time to Care for the Caregiver Now?

    Reply
  • Andrew Miner 4th October 2011, 9:03 AM

    This is a very handy quick reference guide for the different forms of recycleable plastic. Thanks!

    Andrew
    http://www.andrewminer.net/the-benefits-of-outdoor-exercise-san-diego-style/

    Reply
  • Michael Paulse 4th October 2011, 8:14 AM

    Clare, I have often wondered what those numbers meant while I’ve cleared out the recycle bins. Thanks for the go-to table explaining it all.

    Reply
  • […] You might have noticed little numbers on plastic bottles?  Here’s what they mean. […]

  • bob l says:

    what would these be? Shatterproof Glasses via Joanne Hudson – they say that they are a PETG polymer and they tout them as “green”

    • Clare Delaney says:

      Hi Bob, PETG is the same basic process as PET with glycol added as a modifyer. PET plastic is indeed recyclable, and offers fewer health hazards than other types of plastic such as PVC. In an ideal green world of course, we’d move away from plastic – due to the fact that it’s made from petroleum as well as contributing hugely to litter (not everyone recycles, plastic doesn’t bio-degrade, and it kills birds and animals who eat it, thinking it’s food). But plastic is (normally) cheap and is so widely used now that its difficult to do without. To answer your question, those glasses are “greener” than other plastic types, but plastic isn’t particularly green. It’s probably better to buy those glasses for holiday or poolside use, than polystyrene disposables though. Thanks for your comment!

  • Mil says:

    Thanks for explaining all those numbers as I am confused which can be recycled or not. Looking forward to the answer to this question (and ending all arguments about the GOOD number vs BAD numbers).

  • […] answer lies in the plastic numbers (resin ID).  (See my earlier blog for a description of the plastic recycling numbers).  You need to check those numbers before you send it for […]

  • Dennis Perry says:

    Very helpful discussion. It’s nice to know what the different types of plastics can be recycled into.

    Dennis

  • Internet Personals Ad Writers says:

    Hi Green Goddess,

    Thank you for introducing the whole spectrum of the plastic bottle numbers. Looking forward to when you tell us what they all mean and what we can DO with them.

    Happy Dating and Relationships,

    April Braswell

  • The Knowledge Stylist says:

    Clare, great stuff. I feel as though I get closer to my PhD in being eco-friendly everytime I visit your site!

    TKS

  • Kevin Bettencourt says:

    I always wondered why the cap and the bottle weren’t made of the same plastic. What’s more, in my area we can’t put the cap in for recycling.

  • Thanks for clearing this all up Clare, very useful!

    Looking forward to the bottle cap series on recycle #’s!

    Mark Hogan

  • Cherie Miranda says:

    Thank you so much, Clare! I knew those codes meant something, but I didn’t know how to read and interpret all of them. Great info!

    Cherie Miranda

  • Michael D Walker says:

    I’m assuming this is printed on the bottom of the item? Haven’t been aware of the 5 system before but glad to know there’s a system in place.

    Michael

  • Sonya Lenzo says:

    I knew about them in a general way because some some recycling centers I have used will say they only take certain #s…..so I have learned to look for the numbers. In my experience the numbers were often tiny and hard to read, leaving me doubt that any actualy read them…..But I had NO idea what the numbers meant….thanks for the info!
    Sonya Lenzo

  • Neil Dhawan says:

    Clare,

    Thank you for a REAL breakdown on what those numbers on the bottom of plastic bottles mean. I had someone tell me that the numbers stood for how many times you could reuse the bottle ( true story! ). Now you’ve got me curious about the bottle caps …

    Stay Amazing and Do Extraordinary Things, Neil

  • Rob Malone says:

    Thanks Clare – great breakdown on the numbers. I heard once that the number stood for how often the plastic had been recycled and that really never mad sense to me. I now understand the meaning of the numbers and why they are important to the recycler.

  • John Moulder says:

    Clare , thanks for the explanation of the numbers . I have to admit I hadn’t noticed any numbers on plastic bottles . I had better go and have a look .

  • Eva Palmer says:

    I never asked myself about those numbers!
    It makes perfect sense!!
    Thanks Clare!

  • About body language says:

    Clare, I never really noticed these symbols until I saw you blog on being eco friendly. I went to the storage area where I keep the cleaners and sure enough they were there.
    Scott Sylvan Bell
    The body language
    Now go implement!

  • Annie Born says:

    This is simply excellent information.
    You are caring for every part of our environment!
    Looking forward to tomorrow!
    Create a great day!
    Time to Care for the Caregiver Now?

  • Andrew Miner says:

    This is a very handy quick reference guide for the different forms of recycleable plastic. Thanks!

    Andrew
    http://www.andrewminer.net/the-benefits-of-outdoor-exercise-san-diego-style/

  • Michael Paulse says:

    Clare, I have often wondered what those numbers meant while I’ve cleared out the recycle bins. Thanks for the go-to table explaining it all.