In 1988, The Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) introduced a code system that helps with recycling plastic by numbers. There are several recycling symbols, many of which can become confusing if you aren’t up to speed on what they mean. Almost all plastic products bear the general recycling symbol: a triangle formed by three circling arrows. The number in the triangle indicates the type of plastic. There are six common types of plastic and one miscellaneous category with the number 7.
The “chasing arrows” symbol seen on plastic containers and products does not necessarily mean the product is recyclable. The little number inside the triangle is there to help us identify the type of plastic used for the product.
Let’s look at some of the most common recycling symbols and how you can ensure that your trash makes it into the correct bin:
Symbol 1 – PETE or PETG.
This symbol represents polyethylene terephthalate, which is commonly used for soft drink bottles, water bottles, fruit juice containers, and cooking oil containers. The plastic is easily recyclable. It can be reused to make containers, carpet, and furniture. You should not refill PETG bottles as the risk of additives leakage increases.
Symbol 2 – HDPE.
Indicates one of the most commonly used plastics. HDPE plastic is used for a number of different purposes but is widely considered the plastic of choice for containers for milk, cleaning agents and washing soap thanks to its low weight and high strength. It is considered safe and is easy to recycle. This material can be recycled into pipes, oil bottles, pens, and detergent bottles.
Symbol 3 – PVC or polyvinyl (Has the letter V under the arrows)
Thanks to its lightweight and rigid properties, PVC plastic can be easily stamped, sawed, punched, nailed, riveted, or bonded using PVC adhesive. PVC is rarely recycled. In rare instances, it can be recycled for speed bumps, roadway gutters, and cables. Because chlorine is part of PVC, it can result in the release of highly dangerous dioxins during manufacturing. Never burn PVC – it releases toxins.
Symbol 4 – LDPE
This plastic comes in the form of shopping bags, highly-resistant sacks, and crushed bottles. This type of plastic is not usually recycled, but it can be converted into floor tiles and shipping envelopes.
Symbol 5 – PP
Thanks to its durability, strength, and low weight, this plastic is utilised in furniture, luggage, toys, and the lining and external borders of cars. This is one of the safer types of plastic making it ideal for condiment and medicine bottles. PP has a high melting point, so it’s often chosen for containers that will hold hot liquid.
Symbol 6 – PS
Styrene plastic, also known as polystyrene, is marked with symbol 6 that includes the acronym PS. This plastic is commonly used in disposable cups, meat trays, packaging for electronics. It can be recycled to make egg cartons, take-out containers, and rulers. It is to be avoided because of possible leakage of styrene.
Symbol 7 – Other
This category contains acrylic plastic, polycarbonate plastic, polylactic fibres, nylon, and fiberglass. Not every plastic can be recycled. However, both acrylic and polycarbonate can be recycled and can be repurposed for future projects. There are many use cases for acrylic-–you may be able to find it in use for food storage—many food containers are made of acrylic for their strength and transparency. In a nutshell, symbol 7 is a miscellaneous category that nobody can do anything with.