How Green Is Green: Plastic Recycling Symbols Explained

Whatever your feelings about plastic it is undeniably the most commonly used form of packaging and as such most of us will come in direct contact with some kind of plastic in the course of a day. With so much plastic around us all the time it pays to know exactly what we're buying and where it's headed when we're done with it. These are the symbols most commonly seen on plastic packaging and what they mean. These symbols are usually moulded into the plastic and found on the bottom of packaging. It is raised but not always clearly visible. The symbols are usually a combination of numbers (1-7) and acronyms in and around the universal recycling symbol but they can appear in various forms.

While the symbols suggests that these items are recyclable they are actually a resin coding system which indicates what type of plastic was used to make the product and many of these plastics are not recycled. What plastics are and are not recycled is determined by the process used at your local material recovery facility but the code is universal.

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Polyethylene Terephthalate: Most soft drink and water bottles are made from this plastic and they are also used in salad dressing, juice and mouthwash bottles. These plastics are the most widely accepted for recycling and most public facilities will recycle these plastics.
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High Density Polyethylene: These plastics are found in bleach,washing detergent and shampoo bottles. These plastics are also widely accepted for recycling.
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Polyvinyl Chloride: This type of plastic was used in detergent and shampoo bottles but is not that common any more. These plastics are not readily recyclable and many facilities do not recycle this plastic.
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Low Density Polyethylene: Used in grocery bags, sandwich bags and bread bags this plastic can be recycled into more bags but most public facilities don't accept this type of plastic.
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Polypropylene: This type of plastic can be used in straws and bottle caps and some facilities recycle this plastic.
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Polystyrene or Styrofoam: This plastic can be used in take away cups and containers, meat trays and cd cases. It is difficult to recycle and most public facilities will not accept this plastic.
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Other: This category includes a wide variety of plastic resins that don't fit into any other category. This category is expanding as new plastics are developed and it includes compostable plastics made from plants as well as hard plastics like polycarbonate. These plastics have not traditionally been recycled.
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Already Recycled: Symbols that include an R at the start of their acronym coding indicate that the product was made using plastic that has already been recycled. These products can still be recycled if their coding allows.

(Image: moms going green)

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