What do the numbers mean on the bottom of plastic bottles and jugs?
Ever noticed a symbol featuring three arrows arranged in a triangle on your soft drink bottles, milk jugs, styrofoam cups, and countless other items? Most people probably know that the arrow-triangle symbol refers to recycling. But the symbols on many of these items contain a number in the center of the triangle. What does the number mean?
These numbers indicate the type of plastic used to make that product. You may be surprised to find that some types of common plastic items are NOT supposed to be recycled!
1 — Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE)
PETE is probably the most common type of plastic in the world. It’s used in water and soft drink bottles, food packaging, and many “disposable” consumer products. This plastic is inexpensive and easy to produce and is accepted by most city recycling programs and recycling centers. This lightweight, thinner plastic is relatively easily recycled.
2 — High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
HDPE is also very common and is used to make a wide array of products. HDPE is thicker than PETE and is usually opaque or colored. Some examples are household cleaner bottles, milk jugs, detergent and shampoo bottles, cereal box liners, and plastic lumber. This type of plastic is also accepted by most recycling centers, except for flimsy HDPE plastics (such as in grocery bags and trash bags), which are usually not recyclable.
3 — Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) / Vinyl
PVC is a tougher plastic that is often used to make pipes or siding for buildings. It can also be found in household items such as shampoo and oil bottles, wire insulation, window seals, and bubble packaging. Some medical equipment is also made from PVC or vinyl. Unlike those above, PVC is generally NOT accepted by recycling programs, but is often recycled to make wall paneling, flooring materials, and plastic lumber.
4 — Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
Squeezable bottles are the main users of LDPE, along with frozen food containers, tote bags, and some furniture. This type of plastic is usually recycled into grocery and trash bags, shipping materials, and flooring. LDPE has not been widely recycled, but a growing number of communities now have the resources to accept and recycle it.
5 — Polypropylene (PP)
PP is also becoming more commonly accepted by community recycling programs. PP is more resistant to melting, so it is commonly used for containers that hold hot liquids, but also for yogurt containers, prescription bottles, and bottle caps. PP is usually recycled into non-food-related items such as brooms, battery cables and cases, rakes, and various small tools.
6 — Polystyrene (PS)
You have likely heard of polystyrene...it’s styrofoam! PS is generally found in disposable cups, plates, food containers, and packing materials, but can also be found in “rigid” form in items like CD cases and some medicine bottles. Polystyrene is generally NOT accepted by curbside recycling programs, but it can be recycled into various other consumer items.
7 — Miscellaneous
Plastic resins that don’t meet any of the definitions above are designated as miscellaneous. This category includes plastics that are used in an array of items, including large water bottles, personal electronics, and even bulletproof vests. Category 7 plastics are generally not accepted by recycling centers but may be recycled by some manufacturers to make custom plastic products.
Be sure to visit our FAQ page to learn more about recycling plastics and other materials. Generally, our recycling facilities can take #1 and #2 plastics without trouble.