Michael Tanguay

By: Michael Tanguay on April 11th, 2019

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What are the Different Plastic Recycling Codes? (Examples & Disposal)

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. We’ve all heard it and have become accustomed to seeing the infamous recycling symbol on our products. But, what does it mean when there is a number inside the three arrows? Not all plastics can be recycled in the same way or be recycled at all. Plastics have their own identification codes or numbers to tell us what type of plastic they are and where to recycle them.

How are Plastics Identified?

Plastics are identified by Resin Identification Codes, RIC, which are typically listed on the bottom or side of a plastic product.

What is a Plastic Resin Code?

Resin codes were developed in 1988, by The Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI), to help standardize the materials used in different plastic products. Plastic products that are labeled with a resin identification code can be more easily identified and recycled or disposed of accordingly.

Here’s a quick look at which plastics are typically accepted by curbside recycling programs and which are not:

Plastics which are typically accepted by curbside recycling programs*: Plastics which are not typically accepted by curbside recycling programs*:
#1- Polyethylene Terephthalate PETE #3- Polyvinyl Chloride PVC
#2- High Density Polyethylene HDPE #4- Low Density Polyethylene LDPE
#5- Polypropylene PP #6- Polystyrene PS
  #7- Other

*Before disposal of any product, check with your commercial hauler to confirm that they are accepting plastics in your area. Disposal options for each resin code vary by state and facility.

What are the Different Plastic Recycling Codes?

Resin codes are contained by three arrows in a triangle formation. There are seven resin codes, 1-7, to identify plastic products. Each number represents a different type of plastic and how/where it can be disposed.

 

Plastic Number 1 - PETE (Polyethylene Terephthalate)
Plastic recycle code 1 (PETE)

Polyethylene terephthalate can be abbreviated as PET or PETE.

PET is one of the most commonly used plastics in consumer foodservice products.

PET plastics are meant for single use.

Plastic number 1 has a low risk of leaching and is considered safe.

Did You Know: What is leaching? Leaching is the transfer or leaking of chemicals from the plastic to the food or beverage it holds.

Chemical exposure as a result of leaching has been linked to several health problems including cancer, asthma, obesity, and heart disease. The FDA currently regulates plastics used in food packaging to ensure its safety.

PET is lightweight, smooth and shatter resistant.

PET can be manufactured into clear PET or oven-ready/CPET.

Clear PET can withstand temperatures between -20° F – 120° F*. It is a popular food packaging material due to its glass-like transparency and ability to retain product freshness.

Oven-ready/CPET can withstand temperatures between 32° F – 400° F*. It’s ability to withstand a wide range of temperatures makes it ideal for freezer-to-oven product applications.

Product Examples: Inline Plastics Pagodaware Safe-T-Fresh Container

  • Cold Drink Cup
  • Soft Drink Bottles
  • Water Bottles
  • Clear Hinged Containers
  • Peanut Butter Containers
  • Salad Dressing Bottles
  • Oven-Ready Cooking Trays

End of Life Management:

Number 1, PETE plastics are recyclable and accepted by most curbside recycling programs. They should be rinsed and dried before collection.

After being recycled, PET is turned into flakes which can be used for spinning carpet fiber, fiberfill, or tote bags.

 

Plastic Number 2 - HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene)
plastic recycle code 2 (HDPE)

High-density polyethylene is commonly abbreviated as HDPE.

HDPE is long lasting, extremely durable, and resistant to deterioration.

High-density polyethylene is safe to be reused

Plastic number 2 has a low risk of leaching and is considered safe.

HDPE can withstand temperatures between -40° F – 266° F*.

Product Examples: Berry Plastics Rino-X HDPE Can Liners

  • Milk Jugs
  • Juice Bottles
  • Cleaner Bottles
  • Trash Can Liners
  • Butter and Yogurt Containers

End of Life Management:

Number 2, HDPE plastics are recyclable and may be accepted by some curbside recycling programs depending on the product. They should be rinsed and dried before collection.

After being recycled, plastic number 2 is reprocessed into plastic fencing, picnic tables, and lawn chairs.

 

Plastic Number 3 - PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)

Polyvinyl chloride is most commonly referred to as Vinyl or PVC.Plastic Recycle Code 3 (PVC)

PVC is light weight and versatile.

PVC is meant for single use.

Polyvinyl chloride can break down into dangerous chemicals like vinyl chloride. 

PVC can withstand temperatures between 0° F – 150° F*.

Product Examples: CERTO Foodservice Film Wrap

  • Window Cleaner Bottles
  • Detergent Bottles
  • Foodservice Film Wrap
  • Cooking Oil Bottles
  • Clear Food Packaging

End of Life Management:

Number 3, PVC plastics are not typically accepted by curbside recycling programs but may be accepted at some recycling drop-off centers.

PVC can be reprocessed into products such as traffic cones, garden hoses, and floor mats.

 

Plastic Number 4 - LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene)

plastic recycle code 4 (LDPE)Low-density polyethylene is abbreviated as LDPE.

Low-density polyethylene is safe to be reused.

It is very flexible, durable, and lightweight making it a common plastic to be used in food film and squeezable bottles.

LDPE is considered safe and is not known to leach any chemicals.

LDPE can withstand temperatures between -58° F – 185° F*.

Product Examples: Elkay LDPE Bread Bag

  • Squeezable bottles
  • Bread Bags
  • Frozen Food Bags

End of Life Management:

Number 4, LDPE plastics are not typically accepted by curbside recycling programs but may be accepted at some recycling drop-off centers.

After being recycled, LDPE can be reprocessed into trash can liners, composite lumber, and piping.

 

Plastic Number 5 - PP (Polypropylene)

Polypropylene, or PP, is durable and lightweight.plastic recycle code 5 (PP)

Polypropylene is safe to be reused.

Polypropylene has a high melting point which makes it a popular choice for hot liquids.

PP can withstand temperatures between 0° F – 250° F*.

Pactiv Newspring 12oz Black VERSAtainer

Product Examples: 

  • Take Out Containers
  • Plates/Bowls
  • Cutlery
  • Syrup Bottles
  • Ketchup Bottles

End of Life Management:

Number 5, PP plastics are becoming increasingly accepted by curbside recycling programs. They should be rinsed and dried before collection.

After being recycled, plastic number 5 can be reprocessed into bins, bike racks, ice scrapers, and brooms.

 

Plastic Number 6 - PS (Polystyrene)

Plastic Recycle Code 6 (PS)Polystyrene is lightweight, versatile, and cheap.

Polystyrene plastics are meant for single use.

Plastic number 6 contains the chemicals styrene and benzene. These chemicals can transfer to foods and drinks if not used properly.

Polystyrene is not safe to be microwaved or heated.

Polystyrene can withstand temperatures between 20° F – 180° F*.

Product Examples: DART FOAM Spacesaver 12oz Hot Cup

  • Disposable Plates
  • Disposable Cups
  • Meat Trays
  • Egg Cartons
  • Carry Out Containers
  • Straws

End of Life Management:

Although polystyrene can be recycled, Number 6 plastics are not typically accepted by curbside recycling programs but may be accepted at some recycling drop-off centers.

Polystyrene is difficult to recycle because it is lightweight but does not break down easily. Recycling is calculated by weight and because polystyrene is recycled in such large quantities, but with so little weight, it is not profitable for recycling companies to accept. Recycling polystyrene uses more energy and costs more than the benefits received from recycling.

Polystyrene can be manufactured into expanded polystyrene foam (EPS), more commonly known as Styrofoam.

 

Plastic Number 7 - Other (Acrylic, Nylon, Fiberglass, Miscellaneous)
Plastic Recycle Code 7 (Other)

Number 7 plastics are a group of various plastics that did not fall into groups 1-6.

They vary in resin and chemical make-up.

Other plastics include: acrylic, polycarbonate, nylon, fiberglass, compostable plastics, polylactic acid (PLA)

FabriKal Greenware 12oz Compostable Cup

Product Examples: 

  • Five Gallon Water Bottle/Jug
  • PLA Compostable Cups
  • Bulk Food Containers

End of Life Management:

Number 7 plastics vary in plastic resin, making it difficult for curbside recycling programs to accept.  Some number 7 plastic products may be composted, some may be recycled, and some are considered trash.

To find out more information about your number 7 plastic product, contact the manufacturer. 

Contact your local commercial hauler to see if they are currently accepting your number 7 plastic products. 

*Actual tolerance may vary by manufacturer, product, and/or material. 


Final Thoughts

To better understand your product options and disposal options, EBP will help you develop a foodservice program that benefits your business' bottom line and the environment.

 

About Michael Tanguay

Michael Tanguay is a Sales Representative for EBP Supply Solutions, with over 25 years of experience in helping customers tackle their foodservice packaging and commercial cleaning challenges. Since 2012, he has specialized in sustainable foodservice packaging alternatives to help customers increase their food and beverage sales while being more environmentally conscious, and customizing cleaning and sanitation programs using green cleaning products to help lessen their company’s environmental footprint.