A Beginner's Guide to Recycling Plastic

The month of July is Plastic Free July - and while everyone should be taking steps towards living a plastic-free life, you will still inevitably encounter plastic in your life. This does not mean that you are contributing to the detriment of our planet as we know it, but knowing what to do with any plastic you have is a small but key step in saving the environment little by little. 

While the majority of plastics are able to be recycled, 91% of plastic is never recycled, according to National Geographic. Every plastic has a little recycling code number, which can be confusing for those who do not know what the number means. 

Here’s a guide to help you decode what these numbers mean:

Recycling Number 1: PET or PETE 

Polyethylene Terephthalate, or more commonly known as PET or PETE, is the most common form of plastic. It is recyclable, can easily break down after multiple uses, and has a low risk of leaching toxic chemicals. Despite being one of the most easily recyclable plastics in the world, its recycling rates remain relatively low at 20%. 

Found In: 

  • Soda Bottles
  • Water Bottles
  • Mouthwash Bottles

Can Be Recycled Into:

  • Tote Bags
  • Furniture
  • Food Containers

Recycling Number 2: HDPE

High Density Polyethylene, or HDPE, is hard plastic that is also one of the easiest plastics to recycle. It also carries low risk of leaching and can be recycled into many uses.

Found In:

  • Milk Jugs
  • Detergent Bottles
  • Shampoo Bottles

Can Be Recycled Into:

  • Pens
  • Benches
  • Picnic Tables

Recycling Number 3: PVC

Polyvinyl Chloride, or PVC, cannot be recycled. PVC is often found in vinyl and pipes. Due to the large percentage of chlorine contained in PVC, the plastic is susceptible to leaching dangerous toxins. In rare circumstances, plastic lumber makers may accept it, but as a general rule of thumb, you should try to dispose of the material or reach out to your local waste management to see if you can put it in the trash. 

Found In: 

  • Kids Toys
  • Cleaner Products
  • Shower Curtains

Recycling Number 4: LDPE

Low Density Polyethylene, or LDPE, is a soft, flexible plastic that must be recycled in a specific manner. The plastic film must be separated in order to be recycled. Some recycling programs do not accept LDPE, so ask your local waste management if they do before trying to recycle this type of plastic.

Found In:

  • Bread Bags
  • Garbage Bags
  • Dry Cleaning Bags

Can Be Recycled Into:

  • Film and Sheeting
  • Trash and Compost Bins
  • Shipping Envelopes

Recycling Number 5: PP

Polypropylene, or PP, is a plastic with a high melting point and is one of the least recycled plastics. The process of recycling PP involves five steps, making it a difficult plastic to recycle, but more communities are beginning to accept it.

Found In:

  •  Bottle Caps
  • Straws
  • Yogurt Tubs

Can Be Recycled Into:

  • Brooms
  • Bicycle Racks
  • Trays

Recycling Number 6: PS

Polystyrene, or PS, is popularly known as Styrofoam. While some places accept it, many do not due to how difficult and expensive it is to recycle. Its low density and high percentage of air composition makes it difficult to recycle, as it must first be compressed. 

Found In:

  • Cups
  • Foam Food Trays
  • Packing Peanuts

Can Be Recycled Into:

  • Egg Cartons
  • Carry Out Containers
  • Insulation

Recycling Number 7: Other

This type of plastic includes any miscellaneous plastic that does not fit into the other categories and are typically difficult to recycle. They often include multi-resin and mixed plastic items. 

Found In:

  • Reusable Water Bottles
  • Sunglasses
  • Baby Bottles

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