The plastic recycle codes, also referred to as recycle symbols standards, were developed by The Society of the Plastics Industry as a uniform way to identify the type of plastic used in the manufacturing of products and packing. The plastic recycle codes system consists of a number enclosed within the universal recycling symbol, which is a triangle formed by three arrows. Each code provides useful information about the recycling potential of an item as well as its possible impacts on human health. Here we offer a summary of the seven types of plastics represented by the plastic recycle codes systems and the recycling potential for each. The information below also lists any concerns associated with the safety of the plastics.
Polyethylene terephthalate (PETE) is a clear hard plastic often found in disposable food and drink containers including: water bottles, pop bottles, vegetable oil containers, salad dressing bottles, peanut butter containers and some prepared/frozen food containers. PETE is easy to recycle and is accepted by most municipal recycling programs in Canada. There are many products which can be manufactured in part with recycled PETE such as furniture, carpet, polar fleece and even some containers. There are no health risks connected with this type of plastic.
High density polyethylene (HDPE) is also a hard plastic but is visibly different from PETE as it is not transparent. HDPE is found in household cleaner bottles, shampoo bottles and yogurt containers. It is easy to recycle and is accepted widely by recycling programs in Canada. Some items it can found in once recycled are pens, recycling containers, laundry detergent bottles, drainage pipe and fencing. There are no known health risks associated with HDPE.
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) is less stiff than HDPE but has many of the same uses as HDPE. It can be found as the primary plastic in a variety of bottles including detergent, shampoo, and cooking oil bottles. It is more difficult to recycle than the first two plastics mentioned and is not commonly collected in municipal recycling programs. PVC is known to contain phthalates, a suspected carcinogen.
Low density polyethylene (LDPE) is a soft, flexible plastic. It is typically found in a variety of plastic bags including: bread bags, frozen food bags and plastic shopping bags. Though LDPE can be recycled, traditionally it has not been included in municipal recycling programs. However, more and more it is being added as an accepted plastic to Canada’s municipal recycling programs. There are no health concerns connected to LDPE.
Polypropylene (PP) is a plastic commonly found in caps, some yogurt containers, medicine bottles and straws. Plastic containers labelled as number 5 plastic are accepted by some, but not all municipal recycling programs. If PP plastics are recycled they are found in items such as brooms, racks, battery casing, and battery cables. There has been no health concerns linked to PP.
Polystyrene (PS) is also known as Styrofoam. It is commonly found in disposable coffee cups and take-out food containers. In the past PS has not typically been accepted by municipal recycling programs. Though this is starting to change, it is still relatively uncommon that it is collected for recycling. If recycled it can be used in insulation. Unfortunately, PS contains styrene which is a known carcinogen.
Number 7 represents miscellaneous plastics but is most often polycarbonate (PC). PC is used in water cooler bottles, other large plastic containers and up until recently baby bottles. Plastics labelled with number 7 are not commonly accepted in municipal recycling programs. PC contains bisphenol-A which is a known hormone disruptor. As a result its use has been banded from some items.
It is important to know that the plastic recycle codes system is based solely on the type of plastic and does not identify the density in which it is present in any given item. Some curb-side recycling programs only accept high-density plastic which means the coding system can only be used loosely as a guide for what is recyclable. Though the summary here does provide some insight into what plastics are recyclable, it is always best to consult your municipality’s website to find out exactly what is accepted by the recycling program in your community.