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The Daily Green offers this handy guide on the various types of plastic:
Number 1 Plastics — PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate)
* Found In: Soft drinks, 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
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 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 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
Historically, LDPE 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, pallets, trays
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.
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, custom-made products
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.
Sources: The Daily Green March 31, 2008