June 9, 2023
Resin Identification Codes: What Do They Mean?
Learn more about resin codes to become a pro-recycler and have a positive impact on the environment.
When you think of the word "recycle", what image first comes to mind? Most likely, you thought of the "chasing arrows" triangle that is closely associated with recyclable products and blue wastebins. This symbol ♲ is usually found on the bottom of plastics like water bottles. Contrary to popular belief, not every product labeled with ♲ is recyclable.
This is where Resin Identification Codes come into play. Have you ever seen little numbers inside the chasing arrows triangle- ♳ ♴ ♵ -and wondered what they meant? These numbers represent the distinction between plastics that are recyclable and non-recyclable, and are known as Resin Identification Codes. There are many factors involved in determining what plastics can and cannot be recycled; resin codes identify different types of plastic so that they can be sorted and successfully reprocessed. It is important to know the difference between each resin code to do our part for the environment!
A helpful rule of thumb to keep in mind when sorting your plastics - the higher the number, the harder it is to recycle. Continue reading to learn more about each resin code.
PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)
PET plastic is among the most commonly used plastics because of how easy it is to recycle. Check the bottom of any soft drink bottle, and chances are you'll find this symbol. Any product labeled with ♳ can be recycled, and is accepted by most curbside recycling programs when emptied and rinsed before disposal.
Many PET products use a different type of plastic for their lid, so be sure to check before recycling. If you are unsure, it is safest to throw lids into the trash.
HDPE (High Density Polyethylene)
Like PET, HDPE is widely recyclable. However, while most curbside recycling programs accept HDPE plastics, some areas have specific rules on how to recycle this material. Contact your local waste management provider for more information on how to correctly recycle HDPE products.
Lighter HDPE products like grocery bags or plastic wraps cannot be recycled. Many stores accross the United States offer a collection service these products, click here to search for drop-off locations in your area.
PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)
PVC, also known as Vinyl (V), is a tough and durable plastic often used for building materials, medical devices, and cable insulation. Because of its durability, it is difficult to break down and cannot be recycled in your curbside collection; it should be disposed of in the trash.
In an effort to lower the amount of PVC plastics from landfills, some areas have collection centers. Contact your local waste management program to find out if there is a collection center near you. If there are no collection centers in your area, there are other options including the Vinyl Institute, which has PVC recycling centers accross America.
LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene)
LDPE is a flexible plastic often used for thin packaging, squeezable bottles, and shopping bags. Products labeled with the #4 generally cannot be recycled in curbside collections and should be disposed of in the trash.
There is growing number of areas in the United States starting to accept LDPE products as recyclable, but it is still a small percentage of the country. It is best to contact your local waste management for more information.
There are many stores that provide drop-off services for LDPE products. Click here for more information.
PP plastic is one of the most commonly used plastics for a variety of purposes- from packaging to machinery, and everything in between. PP plastic products have recently been deemed "widely recycled" by How2Recycle, and are accepted in most curbside collections as long as they are properly rinsed of excess contaminants like food or medicine.
PS plastic is not recyclable. The most common uses for this material include protective packaging and single-use foodware. PS is also used to create foam products (which are also commonly known by the brand name Styrofoam), which have a notably negative effect on the environment. Research has shown that foam takes centuries to decompose - if at all. A rising number of states including Colorado, Maine, New York, and Washington have taken action to ban the use of PS plastics.
The #7 category is a catch-all for any other palstics that cannot be grouped with the other resin codes. Some of the materials that fall into this category include nylon, polycarbonate (PC), fiberglass, and certain bioplastics such as polylactic acid (PLA).
Products with this label are usually not recycled because of the large variety of materials it encompasses.
State legislature concerning the use of certain plastics is ever-changing as more states are implementing bans on those that have proven to be harmful to the environment. Check out this interactive map to find the latest information on plastic bans in your state.