Last week, we talked about recycling your plastic water bottles. As you might recall from this article, recycling plastic isn’t so one-and-done. You should remove the label and clean the bottle out, for starters. Sometimes you can keep the caps on the bottles, but not always.
You also have to find a recycling center to work with since putting your bottles in a recycling bin isn’t enough to ensure they get recycled.
All the above tasks you have to do are time-consuming. Organizing your plastic water bottles by the type of plastic can be a tough task as well. It may seem that recycling is difficult, but it’s still something you should do for the betterment of the environment.
After all, the perils of failing to recycle properly can be daunting. Plastic bottles can sit in landfills for hundreds, sometimes thousands of years!
All this info might have you asking, what do the recycle symbols on your plastic water bottle mean? Are they going to make recycling even harder?
We hate to break it to you, but yes. Each recycle symbol—and there are a lot of them—refer to a plastic type, so they can be hard to remember.
Luckily, in this article we’ll decipher the meaning for each of those confounding triangular-shaped arrows.
Breaking Down the Recycle Symbols
seven different recycle symbols
There are seven—yes, seven—different recycle symbols. All have three arrows arranged in a triangular shape, which is called the chasing arrows triangle. In the middle of each symbol is a number one through seven.
Each recycle symbol identifies an individual type of plastic, so yes, there are even more plastics out there than what we covered in our last article. You’ll see what we mean in just a minute as we break down each symbol in detail.
Chasing Arrows Triangle #1: Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)
The first chasing arrows triangle is for polyethylene terephthalate plastics, otherwise known as PETs. This is the most regularly-used plastic for soda and water bottles, so chances are, your own bottle will have a chasing arrows triangle with a #1 inside.
While you can recycle PET plastic, it’s not meant to be reused. At least you know by recycling it that it’s going to have the best fate possible. Plus, you can boost this otherwise sad statistic: in the United States, few PET bottles get recycled, just a quarter (or 25 percent).
What happens to PET plastic when it’s recycled? Good question. First, a machine will crush down the plastic. Then it’s made into flakes. Sometimes the flakes get repurposed as polyester fiber, which goes into life jacket and pillow stuffing, carpets, fleece garments, and other textiles. Other times, it may be remade into a fresh PET bottle.
Since you can only use PET bottles once and then must throw them away and recycle them, do know that they can be remade almost infinitely. If you do happen to use a PET bottle more than once, you could notice a growth of bacteria. Worse is the leaking of chemicals that could be carcinogenic.
Here are all PET plastic items that have a #1 symbol:
- Cooking oil containers
- Fruit juice containers
- Mineral water and other water bottles
- Soft drink bottles
I found a video that explain well about this type of Plastic from Container and Packaging (PET is everywhere and in the textile industry is known as … polyester. PET is safe for food contact products and you’ll be amazed at what gets packaged in PET plastic.) you can watch below:
What is PET? A Video Explanation
Chasing Arrows Triangle #2: High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
Next is the chasing arrows triangle #2, which represents high-density polyethylene or HDPE. This is the much firmer, tougher plastic that is used for milk jugs and other heavy-duty bottles.
The good news about HDPE plastic is you can recycle and reuse it, which automatically makes it a little better than PET plastics. Another advantage of HDPE plastic is that there’s no need to worry about chemicals leaking out. You would have to expose this plastic to extraordinarily cold or hot conditions, and even then, it’s not easy to degrade it.
In fact, HDPE is so reliable that it’s often used for trucks in bed liners. You might see it repurposed into park benches, heavy-duty waste bins, plastic lumber, and picnic tables as well.
Recycling HDPE plastic is inexpensive, so start contributing your HDPE items to a recycling center today.
Those items include:
- Shower soap bottles
- Shampoo and conditioner bottles
- Bleaching agent containers
- Laundry detergent containers
- Cleaning containers
- Milk jugs and juice jugs
Watch video bellow that explain well about this type of Plastic from Container and Packaging (High density polyethylene, or HDPE for short, is one of the most pervasive plastic types. It has an excellent resistance to chemicals, making it the go-to plastic for detergents and cleaners.)
What is HDPE? A Video Explanation
Chasing Arrows Triangle #3: Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
The next recycling symbol is #3, which is for polyvinyl chloride or PVC plastics. Since PVC can soften and is quite malleable, it’s used in a lot of products. These include blister packaging and toys for pets and children, including teething rings.
This is quite detrimental, because if PVC is exposed to intense cold or heat, it can leak toxic substances. It’s no wonder it’s called “poison plastic.” It does have its purposes, as it makes a useful plastic for trellises, raised flowerbeds, arbors, garden hoses, and window frames. If you’re not putting it anywhere near your mouth, PVC is okay to use.
Watch video bellow that explain well about this type of Plastic from Container and Packaging (Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) is marked with the resin identification code of 3. PVC has gotten a bad rap, so we decided to write a rap about it. Is PVC the poison plastic? It depends. Watch to learn why.)
What is PVC? A Video Explanation
Sadly, PVC can’t be recycled. It’s also not recommended you reuse it unless for the above industrial and household applications. Very little PVC plastic ever makes it to the recycle bin; not even one percent of the stuff. That’s because the virgin material necessary for PVC plastic makes recycling difficult.
Here are the PVC products you might have at home:
- Food foils
- Bubble foil
- Plastic wrap
- Plastic trays
Chasing Arrows Triangle #4: Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
Low-density polyethylene or LDPE, which has a recycling symbol #4, is also malleable. It can be used in everything from bottles to plastic wrap. It can even be in your furniture and clothing, believe it or not!
Due to its wide range of applications, LDPE has a lower risk of leaking toxic substances than some other plastics. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but it happens far more infrequently than the plastics we’ve discussed thus far.
You can use LDPE items as many times as you wish, but you may not be able to recycle them. Recycling centers can be picky about LDPE plastics due to the fact that this plastic doesn’t get recycled often.
If it is recycled, it has plenty of extra uses. LPDE plastic can go into floor tiles, garbage can liners, landscaping boards, and plastic lumber. If you want to recycle this plastic, contact your recycling center and ask them to get on board with recycling LDPE.
Here are some LDPE items you can try to recycle:
- Plastic wrapping
- Plastic sacks (like bread bags)
- Plastic shopping bags
- Crushed bottles
Watch video bellow that explain well about this type of Plastic from Container and Packaging (LDPE is marked with the resin identification code of 4. LDPE is flexible, tough, and almost unbreakable. It’s perfect for products that need a good squeeze like mustard, honey, eye drops and more.)
What is LDPE? A Video Explanation
Chasing Arrows Triangle #5: Polypropylene (PP)
The plastic that’s represented by the #5 recycling symbol is polypropylene or PP. Unlike some other plastics on this list, PP can heat up without leaking chemicals. Most cereal bags are made of the plastic. That’s due, in part, to its ability to prevent chemicals, grease, and moisture from getting into foods.
Other food applications for PP plastic are potato chip bags, yogurt containers, margarine containers, and plastic bottle tops. You might also find it in some rope, packing tape, drinking straws, pails, and disposable diapers.
You can reuse PP plastic, but recycling it isn’t as easy. Like LDPE, certain recycling programs might not take PP plastic. In fact, in this country, very little of this plastic gets recycled, just three percent in all.
When it is recycled, it’s used for trays and bins, brooms, battery cases, and landscape border stripping. It certainly has its purposes, then.
Here are some items that are made of PP plastic that may be recyclable:
- Car borders (external only)
- Car lining
- Car bumpers
- Some furniture
Watch video bellow that explain well about this type of Plastic from Container and Packaging (Polypropylene (PP) is a type of plastic with a high resistance level to heat. It is also incredibly resistant to fatigue. Watch how Captain Polypro and P-E-T Man stack up when submerged in boiling water.)
What is PP? A Video Explanation
Chasing Arrows Triangle #6: Polystyrene (PS)
If you’re familiar with Styrofoam, then you’ve used polystyrene, the sixth recycling symbol. Since it can be molded easily, it doesn’t weigh much, and it’s cheap, it’s an ideal material.
Polystyrene is favored for its use in packing peanuts, other foam packaging, laminate flooring underlay sheeting, rigid foam insulation, plastic picnic utensils, egg cartons, takeout food containers, and foam drinking cups.
There are some downsides to polystyrene, admittedly. First is its inability to be recycled. Currently, polystyrene may contribute a great deal to the junk in landfills, nearly 35 percent. It just seems that many people don’t want to recycle polystyrene.
If you want, you can change that, but make sure your recycling center accepts this plastic before you bring it in.
Another problem with polystyrene is its tendency to leak out styrene. Styrene is a chemical that can cause issues with your reproductive system and may be carcinogenic. Warming up polystyrene can trigger styrene leaks.
The last big issue with this plastic is that it can crumble without much effort. Unfortunately, marine animals and other creatures accidentally consume polystyrene when it gets into oceans, lakes, and other bodies of water.
Be on the lookout for polystyrene in:
- Vending machine cups
- CD cases
- Some costume jewelry
- Cosmetic bags
- Refrigerator trays
- Hard packing materials
Watch video bellow that explain well about this type of Plastic from Container and Packaging (Polystyrene (PS) is marked with the resin identification code of 6. Watch as we perform the Cinder Block Drop Test on PS, LDPE and a tray of delicious peanut brittle.)
What is PS? A Video Explanation
Chasing Arrows Triangle #7: Other
The last recycling category is #7. This is where all other types of plastic go when they don’t fit anywhere else. Typically, these plastics are polycarbonate or PC.
Polycarbonate plastics, like many plastics, can leak bisphenol A or BPAs, which cause a whole host of health problems. We’ve talked about BPAs many a time on this blog, so you should know by now that they should be avoided at all costs.
You also know that sadly these plastics are used to make many items we put our mouths on and can thus accidentally consume, such as reusable water bottles and baby bottles. As you’ll recall, even the plastics that claim to be BPA-free typically aren’t. Warming them up in a microwave or freezing them causes BPAs, phthalates, and other chemicals to leak out.
Instead of polycarbonates, the plastic industry has turned now to compostable plastics. These are typically made with corn starch and other polymers and are much safer than polycarbonates. Still, both compostable plastics and polycarbonates have the #7 recycle symbol, which can be confusing.
If your plastic item is marked as PLA compostable, you can’t recycle it. You shouldn’t even reuse it unless it’s PLA compostable. Since plastics with the #7 recycle symbol are dangerous and can’t be recycled, it’d be best to stay far away from them.
Other plastics in this category are:
- Polyactic fibers
Watch video bellow that explain well about this type of Plastic from Container and Packaging (Our seventh and final installment of the “What is …?” plastic resin identification code series. Learn more about those plastics marked with a “7,” and the answer to why there are only 7 plastic categorizations.)
What is Other? A Video Explanation
Once you find a recycling center near you, it’s worth having a conversation about all seven recycle symbols. Ask which plastics your recycle center accepts. These symbols will then help you organize your plastics for recycling or removal.
Recycling can be tough knowing that the items in your recycle bin sometimes end up in landfills. What’s worse is that plastics are categorized by seven different recycle symbols. Some of these plastics can be recycled and are while others should be but aren’t…at least not yet. A few of the plastics should even be staunchly avoided.