Plastic Recycling Symbols

Have you ever wondered what the numbers on inside the recycling symbol means? As a kid, I used to think that it meant the number of times the item was recycled, but how very wrong I was. It turns out the number inside the recycling symbol is the type of resin or plastic that was used in making the material.

It's important for us to know what these symbols mean so that we can properly recycle items and avoid items that are difficult to recycle.

Number 1 Plastic

Chemical Compound: Polyethylene Terephthalate
Found In: Plastic drinking bottles and common food packaging
Characteristics: Lightweight, usually squeezable, thin
Readily Recycled: Yes
Recycled Into: Bottles, polyester fibers (used in carpets and other fabrics), furniture, bags
Health Risk: Low

Number 2 Plastic

Chemical Compound: High Density Polyethylene
Found In: Detergent bottles, bleach bottles, shampoo bottles, condiment bottles
Characteristics: Moderate weigh, rarely squeezable, thick
Readily Recycled: Yes
Recycled Into: Bottles, bags, pens, fence
Health Risk: Low

Number 3 Plastic

Chemical Compound: Polyvinyl Chloride or Vinyl
Found In: Electronic cables, pipes, toys, furniture, almost in everything
Characteristics: Elastic when thin, very tough when hard. Tough. Not easily weathered. Water- and flame resistant
Readily Recycled: No, very difficult to recycle because it contains heavy metals like lead and cadmium. Very few accept PVC in recycling because of it's environmental and health threats.
Recycled Into: Cables, paneling
Health Risk: Moderate. Do not put near food, especially when flamed.. Do not burn or incinerate. PVC contains Dioxine which is a man-made poison that can kill. It stays in the body for a long time and weakens the body.

Number 4 Plastic

Chemical Compound: Low Density Polyethylene
Found In: Wrappers, grocery bags, sandwich bags, sqeezable wrappers
Characteristics: Very thin, very lightweight. can be crumpled
Readily Recycled: No, very few recycling programs accept it as a recyclable. Probably due to its weak and lightweight characteristic
Recycled Into: Same items as it is found in
Health Risk: Low

Number 5 Plastics

Chemical Compound: Polypropylene
Found In: Condiment bottles, medicine bottles, yogurt tubs, rope, straws
Characteristics: mostly squeezable, heat intolerant
Readily Recycled: No but are slowly gaining acceptance in recycling programs
Recycled Into: Fibers, brooms, brushes, trays
Health Risk: Low

Number 6 Plastic

Chemical Compound: Polystyrene
Found In: Disposable plastic spoons, forks and cups, CD cases, egg cartons, foam food trays
Characteristics: Very lightweight, bulky. Also known as Styrofoam
Readily Recycled: No. Very difficult to decompose. Very few programs accept it
Recycled Into: Egg cartons, foam packin
Health Risk: Moderate to high. When ingested, can block the digestive system. Production is petroleum based and uses a carcinogenic called benzene

Number 7 Plastic

Chemical Compound: Combination of any or all of the above plastics/resins or other resins that don't fit into the above items.
Found In: bullet-proof materials, 5-gallon water bottles,
Characteristics: Very thick, heavy duty
Readily Recycled: No. Very difficult to recycle because of the diversity of plastics in it
Recycled Into:  plastic lumber,
Health Risk: Low to moderate. Depends on the type of plastic

DISCLAIMER: I do not own the recycle symbol and any of its variants. A watermark is placed in the images to protect my intellectual property right of making the image based on the symbol and it's variants. The watermark is not intended to own the symbol or imply any meeting related to owning the recycle symbol.