Did you know that almost half of all the waste produced in the United States each year comes from our homes? One of the best ways to help reduce this amount of waste is by recycling! But what does it mean when we recycle something? And, how do those numbers on our recyclable materials actually work? Keep reading to find out!

While most plastics can be recycled in theory, only 9% of plastic waste generated has ever been recycled. Rules for recycling plastics vary by municipality and with these different rules and symbols it can often be confusing. The common recycling numbers are often found on the bottom of single-use plastic packaging and plastic bottles. They are identified by the ‘chasing arrows’ symbol. However, this symbol does not mean it’s recyclable – it is an indicator of the type of plastic. Discover each type of plastic below and what its corresponding number means, what it’s used for, and if it can be recycled.

#1 PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) PET is the chemical name for polyester. It is a clear, strong, and lightweight plastic. 

Used For: cosmetic containers, plastic bottles, prepared food trays, clamshell food containers, and mouthwash bottles.

How to recycle: It is often washed and remelted and made into new PET products. Almost every recycling program in North America and Europe accepts PET containers. Although it is the most recycled plastic in the world, it is best to reduce your single-use plastic consumption and look for alternatives like paper packaging. Only 9% of plastic gets recycled and PET plastic often ends up in our landfill, waterways, and oceans – having harmful effects on the environment.

#2 HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) – HDPE is one of the most versatile materials and used in a wide range of products. It is known for its durability and strength and is highly resistant.

Used For: cleaning products, laundry detergent jugs, shampoo bottles, and shower soaps.

How to recycle: HDPE products can be recycled in most recycling programs and is one of the easiest plastics to recycle. They are often sent to large facilities to be processed.

#3 PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) – PVC is one of the most commonly used plastics worldwide and is often used in the construction industry.

Used For: items that are made of PVC plastic include window frames, blood bags, pool liners, garden hoses, and and blister packs.

How to recycle: PVC can be highly problematic to recycle due to the high chlorine in raw PVC and the levels of hazardous additives in the polymer. This type of plastic needs to be separated from other plastics before recycling.

#4 LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene) – LDPE is translucent and flexible plastic found in many common everyday items. It is utilized for various flexible bottles and lids, as well as cables and wires.

Used For: low density polyethylene is typically used for six pack rings, trash bags, bread bags, paper towel and tissue overwrap, cling film, and squeezable bottles.

How to recycle: LDPE is often not accepted through curbside recycling programs and is thrown in the trash. It is best to check your municipal waste program rules and regulations. Look for bread and paper towels wrapped in paper packaging instead of LDPE plastic. Finding a store that focuses on refillable items can also help to reduce this plastic from going into landfills.

#5 PP (Polypropylene) – Polypropylene Plastic is a thermoplastic used in a wide variety of product applications. It is often used for containers used to hold hot liquid.

Used For: yogurt containers, syrup and medicine bottles, bottle caps, packaging tape, cereal liners, straws, hangers, cups, and juice bottles

How to recycle: PP can be recycled through some municipal curbside recycling programs. Items that contained food must be rinsed out before placing them in your recycling bins. Always check your local recycling program to ensure that PP is accepted.

#6 PS (Polystyrene) – Polystyrene is commonly known as Styrofoam and is made into rigid foam packaging products and protective shipping containers. This type of foam plastic can leach into foods and cause harm to humans. Polystyrene foam plastic is being banned in many countries around the world.

Used For: takeout containers, disposable coffee cups, shipping cartons, and egg cartons

How to recycle: Fewer and fewer curbside recycling programs accept PS plastic. Foam products tend to break down into smaller pieces. Avoid foam takeout containers or bring your own reusable containers and cups when eating out.

#7 Other – The number seven recycling symbol encompasses any type of plastic that does not fit into any other category of plastic. These types of plastic are not typically for reuse. Polycarbonate falls into this category and studies have shown BPA in these types of containers.

Used For: baby bottles, water cooler bottles, fiberglass, tupperware,  safety glasses, CDs, and headlights

How to recycle: Other category plastics are not accepted in recycling programs and it is best to avoid them all together or consult with your municipality or instructions on how to dispose of them.

Though it may seem daunting, recycling is crucial for waste management. By understanding what numbers and types of plastic to recycle, as well as reducing our reliance on single-use plastics through choosing refillable items and paper packaging, we can collectively make a difference. Learning how to recycle properly and consulting your municipal rules and regulations ensures that you are doing your part for our planet. What changes will you make in your everyday life to reduce your plastic waste? Share the ways with #ditchplasticpackaging.