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Plastic recycling numbers, often seen as a triangle of arrows with a number inside, are actually codes that identify the type of plastic material a product is made from. These Resin Identification Codes (RIC) were developed in 1988 by the Society of the Plastics Industry (now the Plastics Industry Association) to help streamline the recycling process. Each number, ranging from 1 to 7, corresponds to a specific polymer, such as PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) for number 1, which is commonly used in water bottles, or HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) for number 2, found in milk jugs and detergent bottles. Knowing these codes is crucial for effective recycling, as different plastics have to be processed separately to maintain the integrity of recycled materials.
Understanding these codes is not just beneficial for recycling centers; it empowers consumers to make informed decisions about the products they buy and how to dispose of them properly. For instance, plastics labeled with numbers 1 and 2 are widely accepted by recycling programs and have a recycling rate of about 29% and 31% respectively, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. On the other hand, plastics marked with numbers 3 through 7 are less commonly recycled, often due to a lack of facilities or market demand for those materials. By familiarizing ourselves with these codes, we can contribute to a more sustainable environment by ensuring that we recycle correctly and advocate for products made with easily recyclable materials.
The plastic recycling number is used to help consumers and recyclers sort plastics in a way that is most beneficial so that each plastic is treated properly when it is ready to recycle. While the system was initially meant solely for recyclers, some local governments also require residents to pay attention to the plastic numbers. The plastic recycling number is vital to ensuring an efficient and safe operation for recyclables.
For those who are unsure where to find the plastic recycling number, it is generally located in an inconspicuous area of the plastic, such as the bottom, or perhaps a lower corner. It is usually distinguished by being inside three arrows arranged in a triangular shape. The number inside the area will tell the consumer, and more importantly the recycler, a little more information about the type of plastic.
Number 1 plastics, known as PET or PETE, are made of polyethylene terephthalate. They are traditionally plastics found in soft drink bottles, as well as plastics used for things like salad dressing and peanut butter. It is one of the more common types of plastics.
Number 2 plastics are denoted by the letters HDPE, which stands for high-density polyethylene. These plastic ratings are most commonly seen in the form of milk jugs. However, juice bottles, water bottles and even trash bags can have this designation.
Number 3 plastics are known as PVC. They most commonly show up as shampoo bottles and detergent bottles because of the plastic's ability to withstand the chemicals. Of course, this is also the type of plastic used for PVC piping. It is rarely recycled and often not taken by municipal recycling programs.
Number 4 plastics are known as PE-LD, or low-density polyethylene. This plastic recycling number is often applied to food bags and squeezable bottles, for products such as ketchup and mustard. Again, as with number 3 plastics, these are not commonly recycled.
Number 5 plastics, or PP, are made from polypropylene. It commonly comes in the form of ketchup bottles, plastic caps, straws and medicine bottles. Though it has not traditionally been widely accepted by recyclers, that is slowly beginning to change.
Number 6 plastics are indicated by the letters PS, which stands for polystyrene. This plastic recycling number is often seen on food containers for carry-out items, as well as meat trays for meats packaged at a grocery store. They are accepted by some curbside recycling programs.
Number 7 plastics are denoted by the letter O, or the word OTHER. As the name would suggest, this plastic recycling number is miscellaneous number that applies to all other sorts of plastics. In general, these are not recycled, can be reused or last a long time. Common items under this category include 5-gallon water bottles for water coolers, CDs and DVDs, as well as nylon and even sunglasses.