Some Please Explain Those Plastic Recycling Triangles

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Someone please explain those recycling triangles

We learned about it in grade school. It’s embedded in our heads: Recycle, recycle, recycle. Recycle your plastics and glass, your papers and boxes. But raw materials today are a lot different than they used to be. Plastics no longer come in two or three forms, and what the heck is styrofoam anyway?

Here’s a quick breakdown of what those little number symbols on packing actually mean:

#1: Pete or Pet = polyethylene terephthalate

This is the easiest plastic to recycle. And it’s the most common!

Commonly found in:

  • Water bottles
  • Soda bottles
  • Most food packaging

PET plastics are crushed, shredded then processed to make new PET bottles. It is also spun into polyester fibers and used to make textiles like fleece garments, life jackets, pillow stuffing, and similar products.

Recommendation: Avoid reusing PET plastics because they are intended for one-time use. To clean this porous plastic properly would require harsh chemicals. It’s best to recycle it after each use.

#2: HDPE = High-Density Polyethylene

This is the stiff plastic that can withstand wear and tear, like exposure to sunlight, heat or freezing.

Commonly found in

  • Laundry detergent
  • Milk cartons
  • Oil bottles
  • Toys
  • Some plastic bags

This plastic is reusable and recyclable, often used to make picnic tables, waste bins, and park benches.

Recommendation: Since only about 35% of HDPE plastic items get recycled every year, opt for alternatives like reusable shopping bags.

#3: PVC = Polyvinyl Chloride

This is the soft plastic that is considered the “poison plastic” because of the number of toxins it can leach throughout its lifetime. Less than 1% of this plastic is recycled yearly.

Commonly found in:

  • Clear plastic food wrapping
  • Children’s and pet toys
  • Plumbing pipes
  • Garden hoses

Recommendation: Avoid items made with PVC plastic if possible, replacing them with reusable beeswax wraps, drinking water safe garden hoses and children’s toys that are made of wood or the safer PETE plastic.

#4: LDPE = Low-Density Polyethylene

This plastic is considered less toxic and safer to use. This plastic is reusable but not always recyclable. More and more recycling facilities are gearing up to recycle this plastic more efficiently.

Commonly found in:

  • Grocery store plastic bags
  • Plastic lumber
  • Garbage can liners
  • Squeezable bottles
  • Dry cleaning garment bags

Recommendation: Re-use your grocery bags! And when possible, replace them with reusable cloth bags as well. Avoid using a separate bag for every item of produce.

#5: PP= Polypropylene

This plastic is lightweight, tough and heat-resistant. Used often in food packaging, it has a unique barrier against grease and moisture. It is considered safe for reuse and recycling.

Commonly found in:

  • Cereal boxes
  • Plastic bottle tops
  • Butter containers
  • Potato chip bags
  • Straws
  • Battery cases
  • Rope

Recommendation: PP plastic is curbside recyclable and is accepted in most recycling facilities. To cut down your consumption here, seek out reusable straws and water bottles.

#6: PS = Polystyrene

PS plastics are the tricky ones to our health and environment. Among the most widely used type of plastics, it’s weak and lightweight structure makes it too easy to break down and dispersed throughout our environment.

Commonly found in:

  • Styrofoam drinking cups
  • Take out containers
  • Egg cartons
  • Plastic cutlery
  • “Peanut” packaging

Recommendation: PS plastic has been linked to human health and reproductive system dysfunction, especially when introduced to heat. PS plastics leach styrene, a chemical linked to these health consequences and to the number of marine species that have ingested these chemicals as well.

Since most curbside collection services will not pick up this plastic, it is best to above polystyrene when possible. Reusable cups, coffee mugs, cutleries, and Tupperware are always recommended.

#7: Other = BPA, Polycarbonate, LEXAN

Number 7 plastics is an umbrella term for all polycarbonate (PC) plastics. Because of the high level of chemical leaching into food and drink products, PC plastics should be avoided at all costs. There are many environmental and FDA initiative to illegalize the production of PC plastics in mass production. Note: The good news is that some bio-based polymers like corn starch are being developed to replace this harmful PC plastic.

Commonly found in:

  • Baby bottles!!!
  • Sippy cups
  • Car parts
  • Water cooler bottles
  • Children’s toys
  • Children’s dishes

Recommendation and Final Thoughts: Avoid this plastic at all costs when possible until our recycling facilities have developed a more eco-friendly alternative. Understanding these codes makes a difference in how we recycle our waste.

Have a big project coming up? Cleaning out the house, garage or attic? Don’t let the task of separating your recyclables and waste stop you. Hire a professional junk removal company like JunkProsWA, the fast, eco-friendly removal company that will sort and haul away your waste to the proper facilities.



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