With most cities in the nation undertaking a recycling initiative, it’s essential to know what those little numbers imprinted on your plastic bottles and jars mean.
These numbers help determine how you use them, how you should dispose of them, and the potential risks involved from improper use.
Being informed and reading up about them is another step to ensuring you maintain a healthy lifestyle for yourself as well as for the environment!
Some cities only recycle specific numbers, while other cities will accept any plastics, regardless of the stamp.
Here is a brief rundown of what your plastics’ recycling numbers mean, and how the recycling numbers on plastic containers affect you.
How Recycling Numbers On Plastic Containers Affect Us
Recycling Plastic #1
You’ll see a PETE or PET stamped under the number one.
This indicates that these plastics contain polyethylene terephthalate, normally clear and generally safe.
PETE goes into the manufacture of bottles that contain beverages: soda, water, and sports drinks.
Because these containers have a porous surface, they allow bacteria to accumulate over time.
Consumers should recycle these plastics rather than reusing them as storage containers.
Recycling Plastic #2
The HDPE stamp, along with the number two, can be found on milk jugs, juice bottles and detergent bottles.
High-density polyethylene usually is opaque and considered safe.
Almost all recyclers accept plastic #2.
Recycling Plastic #3
Cooking oil bottles, plastic food wrap, and plastic pipes contain plastic polyvinyl chloride or PVC.
Plastic #3 is generally unsafe for use near food as you are cooking it!
Consumers should never cook with food wrap or use it to store warmed food that you will eat later or reheat.
Some recycling centers will not accept PVC because the chemicals used in its production can contaminate other recycled plastics.
Make sure you ask your recycling center what to do with PVC plastics and follow their advice on how to dispose of it.
Recycling Plastic #4
Under the stamped number four, you’ll find LDPE or low-density polyethylene.
This type of plastic is what you will find in plastic shopping bags and bread bags.
The plastic, thanks to its flexibility, is also used to make squeezable bottles.
It is sometimes not accepted by recycling centers despite being considered safe.
Check with your recycling center where you can dispose of it instead.
Some grocery stores accept LDPE plastics as part of their recycling programs; do ask around to figure out the best course of action.
To try and cut down your usage of this type of plastic, why not pick up some re-useable eco-bags instead?
Recycling Plastic #5
Yogurt containers, medicine bottles, and condiment bottles contain the plastic polypropylene.
Most recycling centers will accept plastic #5 as it is generally considered safe.
Recycling Plastic #6
Commonly known as Styrofoam, polystyrene is well-known to Americans for years.
Not only used for plates and cups, but hubcaps and other goods can also contain Styrofoam.
Plastic #6 is next to impossible to recycle, and you should never use it in the microwave as the plastic leaches toxic chemicals when heated.
Again, ask your recycling center whether they accept Styrofoam, and if not, where else you can dispose of it safely.
Recycling Plastic #7
Number seven is the catchall category.
The plastic is in iPhones, baby bottles, riot shields, and even auto headlights.
If you’ve heard of the recent concerns with BPA, you’re not alone.
This plastic, included in category seven, can leach chemicals, just as those found in category six.
BPA can disrupt bodily processes by interfering with your body’s estrogen levels, which can cause problems with energy levels, cell repair, growth, reproduction, and more.
Especially because of the damage it can cause to infants and small children, some countries regulate the use of BPA.
Overall, since even small doses of BPA can be harmful, it’s better to avoid the plastic altogether.
Many products are now as BPA free to protect consumers and allow them to make smart buying decisions.
Because it can cause toxic contamination, recycling centers may refuse to accept products containing BPA.
For those trying to green their lives and make healthy choices, stick with recycling plastics two, four, and five. These are all generally considered to be safe.
Use recycling plastics labeled with other numbers with caution, and never for food preparation or long-term food storage.
While these recycling plastics may seem harmless enough, they can give off toxins, especially when heated.
When possible, choose plastics labeled as being BPA free or stick with glass containers for your food and beverages.
Each city should be able to provide its residents with information regarding the types of plastics they accept for recycling.
Make sure you’re reading up about such information, for your and your family’s wellbeing.
If you have questions, contact your city’s waste disposal office or your local recycling center.
Because you have no choice but to throw away plastics that you can’t recycle, it may be best to avoid them altogether.
Hopefully, this article has given you a better idea of how recycling numbers on plastic containers affect you.
Will you be checking these recycling numbers now that you know what they mean?
Have you noticed you may be using harmful plastics you didn’t know were that bad?
I’m interested to hear back from you.
Alaina Cashman is an environmental advocate and content contributor for RecyclingNumbers.com a site encouraging awareness of plastics guidelines.