Plastics and Their Recycling Codes | A Guide to Plastic

Not all plastics are created equal. In fact, many of them vary in their usability and recyclability. Unfortunately, when we don’t recycle plastics, they end up in landfills. This makes them unnecessary waste—especially considering the fact that using recycled plastic to make new products saves 66 percent of the energy over using virgin material. That’s why the Society of the Plastics Industry has created a coded system to sort all plastics according to how we should recycle them.

Types of Plastics and Their Recycle Codes

Code 1: PETE Plastics

Polyethylene terephthalate is one of the most commonly used plastics in the world. It is incredibly useful because it is lightweight, clear, and durable which makes it a premium plastic for packaging. PETE is actually the chemical name for polyester, meaning we can also recycle polyester fabrics according to code 1 regulations. Common products under recycling code 1 are soda and water bottles, medicine jars, tote bags, bean bags, and combs, and can be repurposed into various textiles, carpets, storage containers, boat sails, luggage, and winter coats.

Code 2: HDPE

HDPE is resistant to chemicals and very durable because of its linear polymerization, making it widely used in products that require a bit of stability. HDPE plastics are used in industries which require closed or open head plastic drums, as they can carry a fair bit of material without buckling. Other recyclable HDPE products include milk jugs, grocery bags, trash bags, bleach containers, shampoo and soap bottles, and toys.

Code 3: PVC

PVC, or vinyl, is robust and can withstand heavy strain which is why it’s used in piping and siding. PVC comes in 2 forms: one brittle and the other very flexible. Flexible PVC is a common material in construction since they use it as insulation in flooring or on electrical wires. PVC does pose a problem, however, as it releases hydrogen chloride fumes if burned. Due to this possibility of toxicity, people rarely recycle PVC but instead turn into decks, paneling, roadway gutters, floors, etc.

Code 4: LDPE

LDPE is incredibly pliable but not very strong, making it useful in packaging applications. It’s safe for food storage and manufacturers use it in products such as garbage and Ziploc bags, cling wrap, flexible container lids, and more. Recently, more and more recycling programs have begun to accept this type of plastic, but you should still call your recycler to make sure they recycle LDPE plastic.

Code 5: Polypropylene

Polypropylene has a high melting point which makes it well-suited for food containers storing hot liquid or food. It’s not frequently accepted in most recycling programs, but occasionally manufacturers may transform it into rakes or ice scrapers.

Code 6: Polystyrene

People can use polystyrene to make Styrofoam products; however, this raises many environmental concerns as it is notoriously difficult to recycle because of its lightweight nature. It also contains known carcinogens, Benzene and Styrene, making it a rather dangerous material to work with. You can find polystyrene in disposable plates and cups, meat trays, egg cartons, carry-out containers, aspirin bottles, and more.

Code 7: Other Plastics

Some plastics don’t fit neatly into the previous categories, including polycarbonates, polylactide, styrene, fiberglass, and nylons. You can find these plastic resins in products such as DVD’s, nylon, sunglasses, bullet-proof materials, baby bottles, and medical storage containers.

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