What does the recycle symbol on plastics mean?
Environmentally Challenged: By Brian Troutman
You see them all the time, but what do they mean? What's the purpose? Today I write about that little symbol found on plastics - the recycle symbol with the number in the middle.
Turns out this symbol is often misunderstood. It does not mean the item can be recycled. Instead, it serves as a way of communicating the type of plastic used in making the item, which then combined with a knowledge of plastics, can tell a handler if the item is indeed recyclable.
Here's a look at how products are commonly labeled with the symbols:
(1) Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE) or (PET). Polyester is its nickname.
Used for: soft drink and water bottles, beer bottles, mouthwash bottles, peanut butter and salad dressing containers, ovenable film, ovenable pre-prepared food trays.
Recycled into: Polar fleece clothing, fiber, tote bags, bottles, clothing, furniture, carpet.
(2) High Density Polyethylene (HDPE).
Used for: milk, water and juice containers, trash and retail bags, liquid detergent bottles, yogurt and margarine tubs, cereal box liners.
Recycled into: liquid laundry detergent containers, drainage pipe, oil bottles, recycling bins, benches, pens, doghouses, vitamin bottles, floor tile, picnic tables, lumber, mailbox posts, fencing.
(3) Vinyl (Polyvinyl Chloride or PVC)
Used for: Clear food packaging, shampoo bottles, medical tubing, wire and cable insulation. There has been increasing concern over the potential toxicity of PVC.
(4) Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
Used for: Bread bags, frozen food bags, squeezable bottles (e.g. honey, mustard).
(5) Polypropylene (PP)
Used for: Ketchup bottles, yogurt containers and margarine tubs, medicine bottles
(6) Polystyrene (PS)
Used for: Compact disc jackets, food service applications, grocery store meat trays, egg cartons, aspirin bottles, cups, plates.
(7) Other: Use of this code indicates that the package in question is made with a resin other than the six listed above, or is made of more than one resin used in combination.
Used for: Three and five gallon reusable water bottles, some citrus juice and ketchup bottles
Sources: Great Upper Valley Waste Management District (Vermont), American Chemistry Council