Deciphering Recycling Symbols

Resin Identification Codes

By Emily Malik

URA Board Member

Those little recycle symbols (also know as Resin Identification Codes) found on all types of plastic containers can be confusing to consumers. The symbol is only intended to identify the plastic resin from which the item is made. In the recycling industry, we often hear questions about why something can’t be recycled EVEN IF it has a recycle symbol on it. While some community recycling programs can recycle these items, others cannot, and others, still, can recycle only a few. Whether or not the item is recyclable depends on a whole slew of factors including local recycling markets, transportation costs, ordinances, and more. What’s a consumer to do? Best practice is to reduce the amount of plastic you consume in your household. For the the plastic you do use, check with your recycler whether it can be placed in your curbside recycle bin. Generally speaking, Plastic #1, #2 and #5 can be placed in those bins. Collection events, like some of the CHaRM (collection of hard-to-recycle materials) events the Utah Recycling Alliance hosts, offer another venue to responsibly dispose of these hard-to-recycle plastics. Recycle Utah, in Park City, also offers residents a permanent location to recycle these plastics every day.

What do these symbols mean:

Plastic #1: PETE or PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate): This plastic is generally clear and used to make soda and water bottles. It is recycled into tote bags, furniture, carpet, paneling, fiber and polar fleece.

Plastic #2: HDPE (High Density Polyethylene): This plastic is generally opaque and has a low risk of leaching into the product held within. It is used to make milk jugs, cleaner containers, toiletry containers, yogurt containers, butter tubs, cereal box liners, etc. It is generally recycled into pens, recycling containers, picnic tables, lumber, benches, fencing, and detergent bottles.

Plastic #3: V or PVC (Vinyl): This plastic is used to make food wrap, plumbing pipes, detergent bottles, and oil bottles. It is recycled into paneling, flooring, decks, and roadway gutters. This is not an easy resin of plastic to recycle.

Plastic #4: LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene): This plastic is found in squeezable bottles, shopping bags, clothing, carpet, frozen food containers, bread bags, and some food wraps. This plastic is recycled into compost bins, trash can liners and cans, floor tiles, and shipping envelopes.

Plastic #5:  PP (Polypropylene): This plastic is found in yogurt containers, ketchup/syrup bottles, and medicine bottles. It is recycled into brooms, auto battery cases, bins, plastic pallets, ice scrapers, and more.  

Plastic #6:  PS (Polystyrene): This is Styrofoam. This plastic is generally difficult to recycle and bad for the environment. You find this plastic in CD cases, egg cartons, meat trays, packaging, and disposable plates and cups. If it is recyclable in your area, it can be turned into egg cartons, vents, foam packaging, and foam insulation. You should never burn polystyrene.  

Plastic #7: Other, Miscellaneous: This is all of the other plastics on the market that don’t fit into a category above. It is generally found in items such as sunglasses, computer cases, nylon, large water bottles, and bullet proof materials. It can be recycled into plastic lumber and other custom made products.