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Thursday, February 18, 2010

How to Recycle Plastics

Many of us are confused over which of the many types of plastics can be recycled. One way is to understand the numbers that are moulded into the plastic containers that we use everyday:

The symbol code we’re familiar with, a single digit ranging from 1 to 7 and surrounded by a triangle of arrows was designed by The Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) in 1988 to allow consumers and recyclers to differentiate types of plastics while providing a uniform coding system for manufacturers.

1 - PETE
The easiest and most common plastics to recycle are made of polyethylene terephthalate (PETE) and are assigned the number 1. Examples include soda and water bottles, medicine containers, and many other common consumer product containers. Once it has been processed by a recycling facility, PETE can become fiberfill for winter coats, sleeping bags and life jackets. It can also be used to make bean bags, rope, car bumpers, tennis ball felt, combs, cassette tapes, sails for boats, furniture and, of course, other plastic bottles.

2 - HDPE
This is reserved for high-density polyethylene plastics. These include heavier containers that hold laundry detergents and bleaches as well as milk, shampoo and motor oil. Plastic labeled with the number 2 is often recycled into toys, piping, plastic lumber and rope. Like plastic designated number 1, it is widely accepted at recycling centers.

3 - PVC - Polyvinyl chloride, commonly used in plastic pipes, shower curtains, medical tubing, vinyl dashboards, and even some baby bottle nipples, gets number 3.

4 - LDPE - Low denisty polyethylene
This includes wrapping films, grocery and sandwich bags, and other containers made of low-density polyethylene

5 - Polypropylene
Polypropylene used in Tupperware, food containers, dishware and auto parts.

1 & 2 are common plastics which are easy to recycle. For numbers 3, 4 and 5, few municipal recycling centers will accept it due to its very low rate of recyclability.

6 - Polystyrene
Styrofoam items such as coffee cups, disposable cutlery, meat trays, packing “peanuts” and insulation. It is widely accepted because it can be reprocessed into many items, including cassette tapes and rigid foam insulation.

7 - Other
Miscellaneous plastic products that do not fit into any of the other categories, e.g. items crafted from various combinations of the aforementioned plastics or from unique plastic formulations not commonly used. These plastics are the most difficult to recycle and, as such, are seldom collected or recycled. More ambitious consumers can feel free to return such items to the product manufacturers to avoid contributing to the local waste stream, and instead put the burden on the makers to recycle or dispose of the items properly.

Source of information:
About.com : Environmental Issues - How To Recycle Different Types of Plastics.

Thank you to Michelle of Rambling Woods for hosting Think(ing) Green Thursday # 36. To participate or to view contributions from other green thinkers around the globe, please visit here.


  1. We do recycling here but not everyone participates. You are way ahead of us here in the US....

    I am sorry for being so late. I am moving Thinking Green to my main blog so that I can just have one blog to take care....Michelle

    Ramblingwoods Main Blog

  2. Recycling is always important, but most of us neglect what we should do to save the world, we must start acting now!


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