Here’s What Those Plastic Recycling Numbers Really Mean

Yes, they do mean something!

Recycling can be confusing because of the various rules and symbols. And not only do towns and cities have different recycling programs, but they could also change. And anyone who Googles “is this recyclable” is probably also wondering what those little numbers mean in the center of recycling symbols.

It turns out that those numbers aren’t random. Recyclable plastics have the numbers one to seven as a code for the type of plastic resin. This information won’t change how or what you recycle—you should follow your local rules—but it is helpful for those who collect, sort and process recycling, per greenmatters.com. Although the code is often mistaken as a universal sign of recyclability, collectors don’t accept every plastic type or number.

By the way, these items should never go in the recycling bin.

Here’s what those numbers mean in the center of recycling symbols:

  1. One, the most common plastic type and number, is PETE plastic which is usually recyclable and picked up curbside. You might find this number on peanut butter jars, water bottles and salad dressing bottles, according to the American Chemistry Council.
  2. Two is code for HDPE plastic, which is less common than PETE. This code is on things like milk jugs, detergent bottles and some shopping bags, too.
  3. Plastic-type number three, made of PVC, is in pipes, shampoo bottles and spray bottles.
  4. Ketchup bottles, toys, and plastic wrap use plastic type number four, LDPE.
  5. Medicine bottles and containers for yogurt, margarine or syrup are from plastic type five, PP.
  6. Cups, packing peanuts and foam trays are some examples of PS plastic or plastic with the six symbol.
  7. The last type of plastic is a catch-all for other types. This might be on some citrus juice bottles or custom packaging.

Now that you know all about recycling symbols, make sure to reduce, reuse and recycle. Then, read up about what really happens to plastic when it’s recycled.

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Originally Published on Reader's Digest