How to Decipher Plastic Recycling Numbers

On most plastic, you’ll find a number, from one to seven. That number is a resin identification code used to help recycling centers sort materials and tell them how the piece should be processed. Here’s a look at what to do with each type of plastic.

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Plastic is everywhere, from food and beverage packaging to electronics, toys and home improvement materials.

Recycle number meaning

On most plastic, you’ll find a number, from one to seven. That number is a resin identification code used to help recycling centers sort materials and tell them how the piece should be processed.

Here’s a look at what to do with each type of plastic.

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Plastic 1

This type of plastic is used to for popular pantry items such as peanut butter, soda, water and salad dressing. It is the most frequently recycled plastic.

Plastic 2

Plastic number 2 is used for milk jugs, butter tubs and laundry detergent bottles, and it is recyclable.

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Plastic 3

Plastic number 3, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), is well-known for its use in plumbing pipes and fittings, but it is also used in plastic food wrap, some pet and children’s toys and some cooking oil bottles.

Products made with PVC are rarely recyclable due to a lack of market for recycled PVC. Check with your recycling collection company to see if they accept PVC.

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Plastic 4

Known as low-density polyethylene (LDPE), plastic 4 is found in many condiment bottles, along with toys. It’s also used in plastic bags used for dry cleaning, bread and produce bags.

This type of plastic isn’t always recycled through curbside programs, so check first before tossing it in the bin.

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Plastic 5

Plastic number 5 is commonly used for syrup bottles, medicine bottles and containers, straws and bottle caps.

Most curbside recycling programs accept this type of plastic.

Plastic 6

You’ll find plastic number 6 in items such as packaging peanuts and CD cases. It’s also used in some take-out food containers (Styrofoam), disposable cutlery and plates and egg cartons.

Check with your recycling program before tossing this plastic in your curbside bin—only some programs accept them.

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Plastic 7

Plastic number 7 is basically a miscellaneous category. Items such as those bags you can use to bake turkeys and those big water cooler bottles used in offices are plastic 7.

While in the past, many recycling programs didn’t take plastic number 7, some now accept it.

The EPA suggests checking with your local recycling guidelines on all these plastics.

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Rachel Brougham
Writer and editor with a background in news writing, editorial and column writing and content marketing.