Decoding Your Plastics

In order to comply with regulations, the plastic industry applies codes to all plastic consumer products. Usually the plastic code will be located on the bottom of a bottle or plastic container or in fine print on the product packaging. It will be a number surrounded by a triangle of arrows. The number will be 1-7 (as pictured below) which describes what type of plastic was used to make the item and whether it is safe to reuse, or whether it is recyclable.

#1- PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)
Repeated use increases the risk of bacteria growth and leaching. Most commonly used to make water bottles. It is recyclable yet only about 25% of PET bottles are recycled in the United States. Bottom line: Recycle, but don’t reuse!

#2- HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene)
Very durable and won’t break down under extreme temperatures. Reusable and recyclable.

#3- PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)
Nicknamed the Poison Plastic. Non-recyclable and should not be used for food.

#4- LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene)
Reusable, but not often recyclable. Usually used for plastic bags and shrink wrap.

#5- PP (Polypropylene)
Used for plastic pails, yogurt containers and bottle tops. Deemed safe for reuse. Recyclable in select locations.

#6- PS ( Polystyrene)
The styrofoam used for take out boxes from restaurants. Non-recyclable and accounts for 35% of landfill waste. Also, it can leach carcinogens if microwaved. I can’t think of a worse receptacle for storing leftovers! This is a plastic to avoid if at all possible.

#7- Other (BPA, Polycarbonate, and LEXAN)
Potential chemical leaching with these plastics. Unfortunately its commonly used to make bottles and sippy cups for children. Even the containers marked “non-leaching” can potentially leach trace amounts of BPA especially when used to heat liquids.

By learning these codes, we can avoid health risks and make conscious decisions about the use and disposal of the plastics we come into contact with every day.