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Recycle Numbers On The Bottom Of Plastics

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Ever wonder what those little numbers on the bottom of food containers, cups, and plastics are?

Here's a guide to what they mean!

Did you know that the use of plastics should be limited if at all possible, but some are safer than others?!

Let's learn a little bit about the multiple plastics we use to eat and drink from on a day to day basis and the type of impact they have on you, and the environment. 

Every plastic container or bottle has a recycling symbol. This symbol is a number ranging from 1 to 7 within a triangle. These little numbers can actually offer a great amount of information in regards to toxic chemicals used in the plastic, how likely the plastic is to leach these chemicals, how bio-degradable the plastic is, and conclusively, the safety of the plastic.   

Recycling Symbols

Look for these numbers before you buy!

Safer choices are symbolized with a 1,2,4 and 5

Avoid 3,6 and most plastics labeled 7 (some labeled #7 are in fact compostable, it usually states this on the packaging or container)

The Meanings of The Recycling Symbols:

Plastic #1 - PETE or PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) Yes- Recycle this

  •  A plastic resin and the most common type of polyester.

  • Widely accepted by the majority of curb side pick ups

  • Many water bottles, beverages, food items (peanut butter containers, salad dressing bottles, fruit containers), & other consumer products (like shampoo bottles & mouthwash containers) are constructed with packaging made from PET. 

  • Manufactures use this because it's strong, transparent, & versatile. Some consider it safe, but this plastic is known to collect bacteria that accumulates. 

  • Up to 100% of PET packaging can be made from recycled PET. This plastic can be recycled again & again. It's also recycled into carpeting fibers, t-shirt fabrics or fleece jackets, dog beds, winter coats, and automotive parts such as door panels & bumpers. [1]

 

Plastic #2 - HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) - Yes Recycle This

  • A polyethlene thermoplastic made from petroleum - One of the most commonly used plastics in the United States 

  • Widely accepted by curbside pickups

  • Typically found in milk jugs, plastic bags, refillable plastic bottles, detergent bottles, yogurt tubs, plastic lumber, lawn & garden products, buckets & crates. 

  • Plastic #2 is typically opaque in color, and is picked up by most curbside recycling programs.

  • This plastic is one of the 4 plastics that is considered to be safe and has a lower risk of leaching.

  •  It resists insects, rot, & other chemicals; HDPE leaks no toxic chemicals into the soil or water. 

  • By recycling your #2 plastics, you help create new: pens, recycling containers, detergent bottles, lumber, fencing, water pipes, fireworks plus more. [2]

 

Plastic #3 - V or PVC (Vinyl)- Not Usually Picked Up CurbsidePolyvinyl chloride - the third most widely produced synthetic plastic made of 57% chlorine & 43% carbon. 

  • Most commonly used to made drainage/sewage/plumbing pipes, food wrap, and detergent bottles, chemical storage tanks & plant piping; PVC has excellent chemical resistance together with good mechanical properties, making this an ideal for all the listed above. 

  • Human Health : Dioxins are created in the manufacturing and production of PVC. Dioxins are highly toxic and can lead to developmental and reproductive disease, immune system damage, and cancer. [3]

  • Dumping PVC in landfill takes up a lot of land and is a waste of a valuable resource. PVC compounds are 100% recyclable. Most PVC products are lightweight and take up a lot of space, and may lasts for hundreds of years without degrading.  

  • PVC can be recycled into: cables, flooring, park benches, speed bumps & traffic cones, film plastic, and decking & fencing. [4]

 

Plastic # 4 - LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene) - Often Picked Up Curbside - Varies from location to location

  • Most commonly found in squeeze bottles, toys, carrier bags, high frequency insulation, chemical tank linings, general packaging, gas & water pipes, food container lids, clear plastic bags, and shrink wrap. Fresh milk cartons and juice cartons are made with paperboard coated with LDPE film, making the cartons leak-proof. [5] 

  • Plastic #4 is among one of the recycling symbols that are considered to be safe. Since it is found in many consumer products as well as packaging, it is likely that everyone uses plastic products or handles packaging made with LDPE daily. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and European Union food closely regulate the evaluation of these plastics. 

  • LDPE is recycled into: compost bins & garbage cans, film plastic, furniture, paneling, plastic lumber, shipping envelopes, and garbage can liners. [6]

 

Plastic #5 - PP (Polypropylene) - Often Picked Up Curbside - Varies from location to location

One of the safer plastics to use & is recyclable. 

  • Widely accepted by curbside pickups

  • Typically found in packaging & labels, textiles (rope & carpet), stationary, reusable containers, laboratory equipment, yogurt containers, ketchup bottles and medicine bottles. 

  • PP # 5 can be recycled into: plastic lumber, car battery cases, manhole steps, and signal lights. 

Plastic #6 - PS (Polystyrene) - Not Usually Picked Up Curbside

  • Naturally a transparent thermoplastic that is available as a solid plastic as well in as in the form of a rigid foam material (Styrofoam). These items are difficult to recycle - not biodegradable, taking several decades of hundreds of years to deteriorate.  This type of plastic can also pose as health risks, leaching potentially harmful toxic chemicals, especially when heated. 

  • Most commonly found in egg cartons, meat trays, disposable paper plates & cups (to-go boxes), medical test tubes, CD cases, smoke detectors, and the red "solo" cup. [7]

  • The foam form is often used as a packing material such as "packing peanuts" 

  • Best to avoid whenever possible, especially with hot items, such as a hot coffee cup made of Styrofoam  . It can leach styrene, a known nuerotoxin with other harmful health effects. [8]

  • PS can be recycled into: flower pots, cassette tapes, and plastic lumber.

 

Plastic #7 - Other, Miscellaneous - Not Usually Picked Up Curbside

  • This category was designed for all the other plastics, so reusing and recycling are not standardized. The most common concern with plastic #7 is the potential for chemical leaching into food or drink products packaged in containers made using polycarbonate, which contains the toxic bisphenol-A BPA. BPA is a xenoestrogen, a known endocrine disruptor - linked to infertility, hyperactivity, reproductive problems, and other health issues.

  • New plastic alternatives are marked with symbol 7 as well; this includes compostable green products, made from corn potatoes, rice, or tapioca. 

  • Plastic #7 can be found in baby bottles, water bottles, iPod cases, nylon, sunglasses, "microwavable" dishes, some tupperwares and squeeze ketchup bottles. [9]

 

Remember, whatever plastics you choose, never heat them in the microwave or expose them to other extremes stresses, like keeping them in a hot car or hot garage. Always recycle or throw away containers once they start to break down or crack. 

 

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(which means NO toxins or chemicals to leach!)

 

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References:
1 http://www.napcor.com/PET/whatispet.html
2 http://bearboardlumber.com/bearboard-plastic-advantage/what-is-hdpe.html
Dioxins and their effects on human health. (2010, May). Retrieved July 7, 2010, from World Health Organization: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs225/en/index.html - See more at: http://www.ecolife.com/recycling/plastic/how-to-recycle-pvc-plastic-3.html#_ednref5
4 http://www.pvc.org/en/p/what-is-pvc
5 http://msdssearch.dow.com/PublishedLiteratureDOWCOM/dh_091f/0901b8038091f9e0.pdf?filepath=productsafety/pdfs/noreg/233-00587.pdf&fromPage=GetDoc
6 http://www.ecolife.com/recycling/plastic/how-to-recycle-ldpe-plastic-4.html
7 http://www.creativemechanisms.com/blog/polystyrene-ps-plastic
8 http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic967858.files/PolystyreneFactSheets.pdf
9 http://learn.eartheasy.com/2012/05/plastics-by-the-numbers/
 
Other References:
http://www.healthychild.org/know-your-plastics/
http://naturalsociety.com/recycling-symbols-numbers-plastic-bottles-meaning/
http://greenveg.com/know-your-plastic-recycling-number/

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  • Gabriella De Luca