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The Numbers on Plastic Bottles: What do Plastic Recycling Symbols Mean?

Mike Barrett
Natural Society / News Report
Published: Wednesday 6 February 2013
While you may think nothing of these symbols, they can actually offer a great deal of information regarding the toxic chemicals used in the plastic, how likely the plastic is to leach, how un-bio-degradable the plastic is, and ultimately the safety of the plastic.
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Have you ever wondered what the numbers, or recycling symbols mean at the bottom of plastic bottles and containers? Did you know that, while the use of all plastics should be limited if at all possible, some are safer than others? It’s time to learn a little bit about the various plastics you use and drink/eat from every single day, and what impact they have not only on you, but also the environment.

Every plastic container or bottle has a recycling symbol. The symbol is a number, ranging from 1 to 7, within a triangle. While you may think nothing of these symbols, they can actually offer a great deal of information regarding the toxic chemicals used in the plastic, how likely the plastic is to leach, how un-bio-degradable the plastic is, and ultimately the safety of the plastic.

Here is some information on the various recycling symbols and numbers:

The Recycling SymbolsPlastic #1 – PETE or PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)

  • Picked up by most curbside recycling programs, plastic #1 is usually clear and used to make soda and water bottles. Some consider it safe, but this plastic is known to allow bacteria and flavor to accumulate.
  • It’s found mostly in soda bottles, water bottles, beer bottles, salad dressing containers, mouthwash bottles, and peanut butter containers.
  • Plastic #1 is recycled into tote bags, furniture, carpet, paneling, fiber, and polar fleece.

Plastic #2 – HDPE (High Density Polyethylene)

  • Plastic #2 is typically opaque and picked up by most curbside recycling programs. This plastic is one of the 3 plastics considered to be safe, and has a lower risk of leaching.
  • It’s found mostly in milk jugs, household cleaner containers, juice bottles, shampoo bottles, cereal box liners, detergent bottles, motor oil bottles, yogurt tubs, and butter tubs.ilk jugs, detergent bottles, juice bottles, butter tubs, and toiletries bottles are made of this.  It is usually opaque. This plastic is considered safe and has low risk of leaching.
  • Plastic #2 is recycled into pens, recycling containers, picnic tables, lumber, benches, fencing, and detergent bottles, to name a few.

Plastic #3 – V or PVC (Vinyl)

  • Plastic #3 is used to make food wrap, plumbing pipes, and detergent bottles, and is seldom accepted by curbside recycling programs. These plastics used to, and still may, contain phthalates, which are linked to numerous health issues ranging from developmental problems to miscarriages. They also contain DEHA, which can be carcinogenic with long-term exposure. DEHA has also been linked to loss of bone mass and liver problems. Don’t cook with or burn this plastic.
  • It’s found in shampoo bottles, clear food packaging, cooking oil bottles, medical equipment, piping, and windows.
  • This plastic is recycled into paneling, flooring, speed bumps, decks, and roadway gutters.

Plastic #4 – LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene)

  • Low density polyethylene is most found in squeezable bottles, shopping bags, clothing, carpet, frozen food, bread bags, and some food wraps. Curbside recycling programs haven’t been known to pick up this plastic, but more are starting to accept it. Plastic #4 rests among the recycling symbols considered to be safe.
  • This plastic is recycled into compost bins, paneling, trash can liners and cans, floor tiles, and shipping envelopes.

Plastic #5 – PP (Polypropylene)

  • Increasingly becoming accepted by curbside recycle programs, plastic #5 is also one of the safer plastics to look for.
  • It is typically found in yogurt containers, ketchup bottles, syrup bottles, and medicine bottles.
  • Polypropylene is recycled into brooms, auto battery cases, bins, pallets, signal lights, ice scrapers, and bicycle racks.

Plastic #6 – PS (Polystyrene)

  • Polystyrene is Styrofoam, which is notorious for being difficult to recycle, and thus, bad for the environment. This kind of plastic also poses a health risk, leaching potentially toxic chemicals, especially when heated. Most recycling programs won’t accept it.
  • Plastic #6 is found in compact disc cases, egg cartons, meat trays, and disposable plates and cups.
  • It is recycled into egg cartons, vents, foam packing, and insulation.

Plastic #7 – Other, Miscellaneous

  • All of the plastic resins that don’t fit into the other categories are placed in the number 7 category. It’s a mix bag of plastics that includes polycarbonate, which contains the toxic bisphenol-A (BPA). These plastics should be avoided due to possibly containing hormone disruptors like BPA, which has been linked to infertility, hyperactivity, reproductive problems, and other health issues.
  • Plastic #7 is found in sunglasses, iPod cases, computer cases, nylon, 3- and 5-gallon water bottles, and bullet-proof materials.
  • It is recycled into plastic lumber and other custom-made products.

The Bottom Line: Which Recycling Numbers to Avoid, Which are ‘Safest’

In the end, it’s really best to avoid using all plastics if you’re able. But at the very least:

  • Avoid recycling symbols 3, 6, and 7. While Number 1 is considered safe, it is also best to avoid this plastic.
  • Look for symbols 2, 4, and 5, as these plastics are considered to be safest. These are the plastics to look for in terms of human and animal consumption.

In the end, plastics will still be used, but you can certainly limit your use of the product. Instead of buying plastic water bottles or other plastic containers, choose glass or invest in a high quality water filtration system to obtain your water from. (This is best for your health anyway).

Perhaps we should call for

Perhaps we should call for the plastic bottle producer to make bottles that meet the international standards ?

In the end, it’s really best to avoid using all plastics if you’re able.
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Suggest we all keep a small

Suggest we all keep a small note to self in our wallets: Plastics 2, 4, and 5 okay. Shopping with a wallet can work to reduce harmful packaging.

Very interesting. But I don't

Very interesting. But I don't get it. Yes, I can try to avoid buying products witth the more difficult-t0-recycle numbers (3, 6, and 7). But what if I find I have some? It doesn't sound better to just throw them in the trash. I'd rather they be recycled.

I wish water-filtering

I wish water-filtering pitchers made of glass were available in the U.S. Brita sells one in the U.K. Although I stopped using my Brita pitcher when I learned that their filters had lost the certification for effectively removing certain contaminents, I had previously had several conversations with their U.S. office attempting to persuade them to make the glass pitcher available here, without success. I suppose no one thinks enough of the American consumer's discernment to bother to market a safer product.

A good article that could

A good article that could have been great but the writer did not bother to point out the best solutions. Demand that companies stop using plastic packaging and mandate that all plastics get collected in recycling programs. Which is the lessor of evils? Recycling thus keeping plastics out of landfills or ignoring the problem (i.e. just don't buy the stuff as the author suggests) and having it go to the landfill?

I agree. How can

I agree. How can manufacturers be persuaded (1) that the public demands they use #1 or 2, since in fact those seem to the the only ones widely picked up for recycling, or else (2) that they subsidize the pickup/reprocessing costs involved in the use of #s 3-7? This article also does not make clear WHY yogurt cups are #5 and not, say, #1. This is one of my pet peeves-if yogurt is so good for you why can't we recycle the containers?!

Good and useful article:

Good and useful article: simple cogent (but too-infrequently publicized) facts.

this site good relevance

this site good relevance well more interesting..

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My community limits the

My community limits the plastics it will accept for recycling to #1 & 2, due to the fact there is no market for the remaining "recyclables." What I see happening is marketing. Corporations include the recycling symbol on packaging for the purpose of implying to the customers the company is ecologically minded. In reality, they are driven by the profit motive to use the least costly packaging material regardless of health risks and real recycling capability. My wish is that the least desirable plastices for recycling are simply prohibited by law, and all plastic, when truly required, has a universal value for recycling.

While plastics are definitely

While plastics are definitely best avoided, as industrial hemp is a vastly superior, fully biodegradable compound and packaging substance, water filtration unfortunately removes the beneficial (A to zincite), from the water as well.

This loss of minerals results in dead water, (not able to "braid" or conduct an electron charge), and as such, leaches and strips your body of the very elements necessary for critical cellular and biological functions. Thus, R.O. water becomes a free-radical scavenger, within the human body.

While R.O. water may still be slightly healthier than chlorine ( a gas designed during WW1 to kill people) induced tap water, it still is no panacea.


UNCONDITIONAL1--What about deionized water? Is there an easy way to add minerals back into the water? Can you recommend some good info on this subject, via the web?

Don't leave me hanging! I live in a town with fluoridated water, and no local springs, so I depend on deionized water for all my H2O needs.

Hi ANDYMANDYM. Probably the

Hi ANDYMANDYM. Probably the best way to provide your missing mineral needs would be supplementing deionized or R.O. water with Bioplasma (12 tissue cell salts) like the one put out by P&S Laboratories in L.A., and a mineral or vitamin/mineral supplement. Preferably an organic one if it's a vitamin/mineral combination. This will at least give your cells and biological system the necessary components for optimal health when natural spring water is not available. All the best!

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