There are several recycling symbols, many of which can become confusing if you aren’t up to speed on what they mean. With that said, we’re highlighting how these unique numbers can indicate the type of plastic, and what they mean when it’s time to recycle them. By understanding the meaning behind these symbols, you’ll be better equipped to help reduce waste, limit your carbon footprint, and help the environment.
Let’s look at some of the most common recycling symbols and how you can ensure that your plastic sheets, tubes, and rods make it into the correct bin.
The “Chasing Arrows” Symbol
The “chasing arrows” symbol we see on plastic containers and products does not necessarily mean the product is recyclable. The little number inside the triangle is there to help us identify the type of plastic used for the product. By understanding the number classifications, we can then determine the appropriate disposal route for our plastic products.
Symbol 1: PETG or PETE
Symbol 1 with the acronym PETE PETG plastic. Also known as PETE, this symbol represents polyethylene terephthalate, which is commonly used for soft drink bottles, mineral water containers, and fruit juice containers, and cooking oil containers. The plastic is easily recyclable so it’s often part of curbside recycling programs. It can be reused to make containers, carpet, and furniture.
Symbol 2: HDPE
Symbol 2 with the acronym HDPE indicates one of the most commonly used plastics in the United States, HDPE (which stands for high-density polyethylene). HDPE plastic is used for a number of different purposes but is widely considered the plastic of choice for containers for items like cleaning agents, milk, detergents, and washing soap thanks to its low weight and high strength.
HDPE sheets can also be easily recycled into pipes, oil bottles, pens, and detergent bottles. It is commonly accepted by curbside recycling.
Symbol 3: PVC or Vinyl
Plastic material that exhibit symbol 3 with the letter “V” represent PVC plastic or polyvinyl chloride. You may come across this plastic in bubble foils, and trays for sweets and fruit. Additionally, expanded PVC foam board is used for a wide variety of commercial applications. Thanks to its lightweight and rigid properties, PVC plastic can be easily stamped, sawed, punched, nailed, riveted, or bonded using PVC adhesive.
PVC is rarely recycled and not usually part of a curbside recycling program. In rare instances, it can be recycled for speed bumps, roadway gutters, and cables.
Symbol 4: LDPE
Symbol 4 with the acronym LDPE indicates that the plastic is made from LDPE plastic, which stands for low-density polyethylene. This plastic comes in the form of shopping bags, highly-resistant sacks, and crushed bottles.
This type of plastic is not usually recycled, but it can be converted into floor tiles and shipping envelopes.
Symbol 5: PP
PP, or polypropylene plastic, , is appropriately marked by the number five symbol including the acronym PP. Thanks to its durability, strength, and low weight, this plastic is utilized in furniture, luggage, toys, and the lining and external borders of cars. This is one of the safer types of plastic making it ideal for ketchup bottles and medicine bottles. It is also increasingly being accepted in curbside recycling programs.
Symbol 6: Styrene, or PS
Styrene plastic, also known as polystyrene, is marked with symbol 6 that includes the acronym PS. This plastic is commonly used in toys, hard packing, refrigerator trays, cosmetic bags, costume jewelry, CD cases, and vending cups. Although not accepted in many curbside recycling programs, it can be recycled to make egg cartons, take-out containers, and rulers.
Symbol 7: Other
Symbol 7 including the word “OTHER” stands for “other plastics,” which include, but are not limited to, acrylic plastic, polycarbonate plastic, polylactic fibers, nylon, and fiberglass. Not every plastic can be recycled. However, both acrylic and polycarbonate can be recycled and can be repurposed for future projects. Since they are both thermoplastics, they can be reheated without a loss in quality. For symbol 7 plastics, be sure to confirm with your local recycling program.
There are many use cases for acrylic-–you may be able to find it in use for food storage—many food containers are made of acrylic for their strength and transparency. However, acrylic is also used in signs, shelving, and showcases for its durability.
Whether you’re working with acrylic plastic or polypropylene, being mindful of the small numbers within the “chasing arrows” symbol can help you better understand what type of plastic you are using and if it is recyclable at the receptacle. In the end, separating plastics accordingly helps waste management professionals ensure that the right materials end up in the right place.