Guide to Plastic
The Society of the Plastics Industry, Inc. (SPI) introduced its
resin identification coding system in 1988 at the urging of
recyclers around the country. A growing number of communities were
implementing recycling programs in an effort to decrease the volume
of waste subject to tipping fees at landfills. In some cases, these
programs were driven by state-level recycling mandates.
The SPI code was developed to meet recyclers’ needs while
providing manufacturers a consistent, uniform system that could
apply nationwide. Because municipal recycling programs traditionally
targeted packaging - primarily containers – the SPI coding system
offered a means of identifying the resin content of bottles and
containers commonly found in the residential waste stream. Recycling
firms have varying standards for the plastics they accept. Some
firms may require that the plastics be sorted by type and separated
from other recyclables; some may specify that mixed plastics are
acceptable if they are separated from other recyclables; while
others may accept all material mixed together. Not all types of
plastics are generally recycled, and recycling facilities may not be
available in some areas.
Number 1 Plastics -- PET or
PETE (polyethylene terephthalate) Found In: Soft drink, water and
beer bottles; mouthwash bottles; peanut butter containers; salad
dressing and vegetable oil containers; ovenable food trays.
Recycling: Pick up through most curbside recycling programs.
Recycled Into: Polar fleece, fiber, tote bags, furniture, carpet,
paneling, straps, (occasionally) new containers
PET plastic is the most common for single-use bottled beverages,
because it is inexpensive, lightweight and easy to recycle. It poses
low risk of leaching breakdown products. Recycling rates remain
relatively low (around 20 percent), though the material is in high
demand by remanufacturers.
Number 2 Plastics -- HDPE
(high density polyethylene) Found In: Milk jugs, juice bottles;
bleach, detergent and household cleaner bottles; shampoo bottles;
some trash and shopping bags; motor oil bottles; butter and yogurt
tubs; cereal box liners Recycling: Pick up through most curbside
recycling programs, although some only allow those containers with
necks. Recycled Into: Laundry detergent bottles, oil bottles, pens,
recycling containers, floor tile, drainage pipe, lumber, benches,
doghouses, picnic tables, fencing
HDPE is a versatile plastic with many uses, especially for
packaging. It carries low risk of leaching and is readily recyclable
into many goods.
Number 3 Plastics -- V
(Vinyl) or PVC Found In: Window cleaner and detergent bottles,
shampoo bottles, cooking oil bottles, clear food packaging, wire
jacketing, medical equipment, siding, windows, piping Recycling:
Rarely recycled; accepted by some plastic lumber makers. Recycled
Into: Decks, paneling, mudflaps, roadway gutters, flooring, cables,
speed bumps, mats
PVC is tough and weathers well, so it is commonly used for
piping, siding and similar applications. PVC contains chlorine, so
its manufacture can release highly dangerous dioxins. If you must
cook with PVC, don't let the plastic touch food. Never burn PVC,
because it releases toxins.
Number 4 Plastics -- LDPE
(low density polyethylene) Found In: Squeezable bottles; bread,
frozen food, dry cleaning and shopping bags; tote bags; clothing;
furniture; carpet Recycling: LDPE is not often recycled through
curbside programs, but some communities will accept it. Plastic
shopping bags can be returned to many stores for recycling. Recycled
Into: Trash can liners and cans, compost bins, shipping envelopes,
paneling, lumber, landscaping ties, floor tile
LDPE is a flexible plastic with many applications. Historically
it has not been accepted through most American curbside recycling
programs, but more and more communities are starting to accept it.
Number 5 Plastics -- PP
(polypropylene) Found In: Some yogurt containers, syrup bottles,
ketchup bottles, caps, straws, medicine bottles Recycling: Number 5
plastics can be recycled through some curbside programs. Recycled
Into: Signal lights, battery cables, brooms, brushes, auto battery
cases, ice scrapers, landscape borders, bicycle racks, rakes, bins,
Polypropylene has a high melting point, and so is often chosen
for containers that must accept hot liquid. It is gradually becoming
more accepted by recyclers.
Number 6 Plastics -- PS
(polystyrene) Found In: Disposable plates and cups, meat trays, egg
cartons, carry-out containers, aspirin bottles, compact disc cases
Recycling: Number 6 plastics can be recycled through some curbside
programs. Recycled Into: Insulation, light switch plates, egg
cartons, vents, rulers, foam packing, carry-out containers
Polystyrene can be made into rigid or foam products -- in the
latter case it is popularly known as the trademark Styrofoam.
Evidence suggests polystyrene can leach potential toxins into foods.
The material was long on environmentalists' hit lists for dispersing
widely across the landscape, and for being notoriously difficult to
recycle. Most places still don't accept it, though it is gradually
Number 7 Plastics --
Miscellaneous Found In: Three- and five-gallon water bottles,
'bullet-proof' materials, sunglasses, DVDs, iPod and computer cases,
signs and displays, certain food containers, nylon Recycling: Number
7 plastics have traditionally not been recycled, though some
curbside programs now take them. Recycled Into: Plastic lumber,
A wide variety of plastic resins that don't fit into the previous
categories are lumped into number 7. A few are even made from plants
(polyactide) and are compostable. Polycarbonate is number 7, and is
the hard plastic that has parents worried these days, after studies
have shown it can leach potential hormone disruptors.
|| Recycled Products
(PET, PETE). PET is clear, tough, and has good gas and
moisture barrier properties. Commonly used in soft drink
bottles and many injection molded consumer product
containers. Other applications include strapping and both
food and non-food containers. Cleaned, recycled PET flakes
and pellets are in great demand for spinning fiber for
carpet yarns, producing fiberfill and geo-textiles.
toughness, barrier to gas and moisture, resistance to heat
||Plastic soft drink, water,
sports drink, beer, mouthwash, catsup and salad dressing
bottles. Peanut butter, pickle, jelly and jam jars. Ovenable
film and ovenable prepared food trays.
||Fiber, tote bags, clothing,
film and sheet, food and beverage containers, carpet,
strapping, fleece wear, luggage and bottles.
High Density Polyethylene
(HDPE). HDPE is used to make bottles for milk, juice, water
and laundry products. Unpigmented bottles are translucent,
have good barrier properties and stiffness, and are well
suited to packaging products with a short shelf life such as
milk. Because HDPE has good chemical resistance, it is used
for packaging many household and industrial chemicals such
as detergents and bleach. Pigmented HDPE bottles have better
stress crack resistance than unpigmented HDPE bottles.
toughness, resistance to chemicals and moisture,
permeability to gas, ease of processing, and ease of
||Milk, water, juice,
cosmetic, shampoo, dish and laundry detergent bottles;
yogurt and margarine tubs; cereal box liners; grocery, trash
and retail bags.
||Liquid laundry detergent,
shampoo, conditioner and motor oil bottles; pipe, buckets,
crates, flower pots, garden edging, film and sheet,
recycling bins, benches, dog houses, plastic lumber, floor
tiles, picnic tables, fencing.
Vinyl (Polyvinyl Chloride or PVC):
In addition to its stable physical properties, PVC has
excellent chemical resistance, good weatherability, flow
characteristics and stable electrical properties. The
diverse slate of vinyl products can be broadly divided into
rigid and flexible materials. Bottles and packaging sheet
are major rigid markets, but it is also widely used in the
construction market for such applications as pipes and
fittings, siding, carpet backing and windows. Flexible vinyl
is used in wire and cable insulation, film and sheet, floor
coverings synthetic leather products, coatings, blood bags,
medical tubing and many other applications.
||Versatility, clarity, ease
of blending, strength, toughness, resistance to grease, oil
||Clear food and non-food
packaging, medical tubing, wire and cable insulation, film
and sheet, construction products such as pipes, fittings,
siding, floor tiles, carpet backing and window frames..
binders, decking, paneling, gutters, mud flaps, film and
sheet, floor tiles and mats, resilient flooring, cassette
trays, electrical boxes, cables, traffic cones, garden hose,
mobile home skirting.
Low Density Polyethylene
(LDPE).Used predominately in film applications due to its
toughness, flexibility and relative transparency, making it
popular for use in applications where heat sealing is
necessary. LDPE is also used to manufacture some flexible
lids and bottles and it is used in wire and cable
||Ease of processing,
strength, toughness, flexibility, ease of sealing, barrier
||Dry cleaning, bread and
frozen food bags, squeezable bottles, e.g. honey, mustard.
||Shipping envelopes, garbage
can liners, floor tile, furniture, film and sheet, compost
bins, paneling, trash cans, landscape timber, lumber
Polypropylene has good chemical resistance, is strong, and
has a high melting point making it good for hot-fill
liquids. PP is found in flexible and rigid packaging to
fibers and large molded parts for automotive and consumer
resistance to heat, chemicals, grease and oil, versatile,
barrier to moisture.
||Catsup bottles, yogurt
containers and margarine tubs, medicine bottles
||Automobile battery cases,
signal lights, battery cables, brooms, brushes, ice
scrapers, oil funnels, bicycle racks, rakes, bins, pallets,
Polystyrene is a versatile plastic that can be rigid or
foamed. General purpose polystyrene is clear, hard and
brittle. It has a relatively low melting point. Typical
applications include protective packaging, containers, lids,
cups, bottles and trays.
clarity, easily formed
||Compact disc jackets, food
service applications, grocery store meat trays, egg cartons,
aspirin bottles, cups, plates, cutlery.
||Thermometers, light switch
plates, thermal insulation, egg cartons, vents, desk trays,
rulers, license plate frames, foam packing, foam plates,
||Other. Use of this code
indicates that the package in question is made with a resin
other than the six listed above, or is made of more than one
resin listed above, and used in a multi-layer combination.
||Dependent on resin or
combination of resins
||Three and five gallon
reusable water bottles, some citrus juice and catsup
||Bottles, plastic lumber