Take a look at your water bottle, egg carton, Or shampoo; Do you see a recycling symbol with a number? Did you recognize that all products hold different numbers?  What exactly do these numbers mean?

PETEPET or PETE stands for polyethylene terephtalate. You will see this number on soft drinks, water or beer bottles, mouthwash containers, peanut butter, salad dressing, and more.  These products are the most common for single-used products, i.e. beverage bottles. PET plastic is low cost, lightweight, and simple to recycle.  These products also have a low risk of discharging breakdown products. Despite the importance and demand of PET plastics its recycling rate is only at 20%. Recycled into: Polar fleece, clothing, fiber, tote bags, furniture, carpet, paneling, and new containers.

HDPEHDPE indicates a product that has a high density of polyethylene.  This symbol is found on milk jugs, juice bottles, trash and shopping bags, detergents, household cleaners, shampoos, cereal boxes, motor oil bottles, and much more. What classifies these products into HDPE is their ability to have multiple uses mainly in packaging; they also bear low risks of emitting the decomposition of products. Recycled into: laundry detergent bottle, oil bottles, pens, recycling containers, floor tile, drainage pips, benches, picnic tables, and fencing.

VNumber 3 plastics show either a V (Vinyl) or PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride). You will find this number on window cleaners, cooking oil bottles, clear food packaging, medical equipment, piping and much more.  Unfortunately PVC plastics are rarely recycled because they contain chlorine and can emit dangerous dioxins.  Although, PVC plastics are not recycled as much they are accepted by plastic lumber makers in order to make things like decks, paneling, and speed bumps.

LDPELDPE plastics represent low density polyethylene.  Number 4 plastics can be seen in squeezable bottles, frozen food, tote bags, clothing, bread, dry cleaning and shopping bags. Recycled into: compost bins, shipping envelopes, landscaping ties, and floor tile.

PPIn number 5 plastics, the PP represents polypropylene.  The initials will mainly be seen on syrup bottles, ketchup bottles, bottle caps, medicine bottles, and some yogurt containers. All of these products have a high melting point which is why PP products are often used to hold hot liquids. Recycled into: Signal signs, battery cables, brooms, brushes, bicycle racks, racks, and cafeteria trays.

PSNumber 6 plastics have a PS on products because they contain polystyrene. PS plastics can be found in disposable plates and cups, egg cartons, carry-out containers, CD cases, and meat trays. PS products are used to make several foam products. In spite of the many uses of number 6 plastics, they can also emit toxins into food. Recycled into: insulation, light switch plated, egg cartons, vents, rulers, foam packing, foam containers.

OTHERThe last plastics you will come across are Miscellaneous. Number 7 plastics are seen mainly in 3 and 5 gallon water bottles, bullet proof materials, sunglasses, DVDs, iPod/phone cases, computer cases, and more.  The seventh category is made up of products that cannot be placed into any other plastic category. Some number 7 plastics are made of plants (polyactide) and others are made of plastics (polycarbonate). Here are the common codes you will see in this category: ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), PC (Polycarbonate), ACRYLIC (Polymethyl methacrylate - PMA), SAN or AS (Styrene Acrylonitrile), PCTG (PolyCyclohexylendimethylene Terephthalate Glycol), PETG (Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol) and COPOLYESTER (Eastman Tritan Copolyester). Recycled into: plastic lumber and custom made products.

The products that you recycle can greatly benefit or harm the environment you live in.  Knowing the meaning of each recycling symbol can help you take one step to positively influence the planet.  By taking an extra few seconds to look on a ketchup bottle, shopping bag, soda can, or cereal box and recognizing its number, you may decide to consume fewer products with 5, 6, or 7 and purchase more within 1-4.  Maybe you’ll be at the store and you want to by a few CDs, a 24 pack of water bottles, and window cleaner. As you are picking out these products you read the number 6 on the CD case and decide you can just download the songs; then you remember that even though most water bottles have a number 1 only 20% of PET plastics are recycled, so you select reusable water bottles; and lastly you come across the window cleaner and recall that it is classified as a number 3 recyclable but is known for emitting dangerous dioxins, thus you pick out an Eco-friendly window cleaner that contains less toxins and ultimately bettering the environment.

Read more about Recycling Basics