What Do the Numbers Inside Recycling Symbols on Plastic Items Mean?

Today, a good many consumer goods are enclosed in plastic. On the plus side, many of those plastics are recyclable. So, how do you know when a plastic product is recyclable? Most plastics contain a recycling symbol, often placed at the bottom of the item. The symbol is a triangle formed from arrows. There are 7 categories of plastics, so a number from 1 to 7 is set inside the triangle to tell you which kind of plastic you have. 

  1. 1 - Polyethylene terephthalate (PETE) — These are used for items such as plastic soda bottles and cooking oil containers. It’s the most common type of plastic and meant for single use. 
  2. 2 - High-density polyethylene (HDPE) — These plastics are typically used for liquids such as milk, cleaning fluids, laundry detergent and shampoo. 
  3. 3 - Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) — This plastic is the base for any form of vinyl, from siding to seat covers. It’s also used to make trays that hold fruit and sweets. 
  4. 4 - Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) — Plastic shopping bags and cling wrap are made of LDPE. 
  5. 5 - Polypropylene (PP) — This plastic is used in furniture, luggage, pill bottles, toys, yogurt cups, and plastic linings for things like diapers and cereal boxes 
  6. 6 - Polystyrene (PS) — This plastic is also used in some toys, as well as in Styrofoam cups, takeout containers, and hard packing. 
  7. 7 - Other — This is a catch-call category for all other plastics, such as acrylic, nylon, baby bottles and fiberglass. These plastics are a mix of recyclable and non-recyclable products.

Remember, you can only recycle clean plastic, meaning you must wash items before tossing them into your recycling bins. Even if you have an item that’s clean and recyclable, it won’t necessarily be recycled. Municipalities often set local recycling regulations, so check your city website to see which plastics are accepted. Some plastics that are not accepted for curbside pickup may be accepted at special recycling sites. Finally, if a product doesn't have a recycling symbol, toss it in the trash. It's better to keep a potential contaminant out of the recycling stream than take a chance.