Greening Plastics: Part One, Understanding Recycling Symbols

Following the latest news about the environmental impact of plastic, I wanted to do a short series of posts related to recycling plastic and ways that sustainable kitchen products manufacturers are helping with the plastic problem.

One of the biggest barriers to plastic recycling at home is knowing just what's acceptable to add to your curbside recycling bin and what's not. Unfortunately, waste management companies often end up throwing away plastics that have been incorrectly disposed of in curbside bins, undermining your recycling efforts without you even knowing.

Plastics manufacturers use specific symbols to help signify the type of plastic from which their products are made. If you understand these symbols, you can make smart recycling decisions and do your part to help with the plastic problem.

- Type 1 Plastics Marked PET or PETE, polyethylene terephthalate plastics are incredibly common and are used for the clear or slightly tinted plastic bottles that hold foods and personal care items like mouthwashes. PET or PETE plastics are the standard plastics accepted by curbside recycling programs and are used to make new bottles as well as upholstery and carpeting.

- Type 2 Plastics HDPE or high-density polyethylene plastic is typically translucent or opaque and used for products that can degrade or spoil if exposed to light like detergents and milk. Curbside recycling programs generally accept HDPE plastic, which is made into everything from plastic lumber to toys.

- Type 3 Plastics Labeled as PVC, plastic containers that fall under type 3 are fortified with chlorine, which makes recycling them difficult. PVC is often used with products that are exposed to abrasive, corrosive materials. PVC is not widely recycled; however, more and more companies are finding ways to reuse old PVC to make construction materials like decking. To recycle PVC, you'll have to find a company or specialty center that accepts it. I recommend using iRecycle (link to blog post) to find locations in your area.

- Type 4 Plastics Most plastic bags, squeeze bottles and other flexible plastic packaging are made from low-density polyethylene or LDPE. Although curbside services generally don't take LDPE, many grocery stores now have plastic bag recycling containers outside their doors. Many communities have additional LDPE recycling centers, which you can find using iRecycle.

Typically, the recycling symbols are placed on the bottoms of plastic bottles, though in some cases, they may be on the back or neck. Having trouble identifying a type of plastic or finding a PVC or LDPE recycling center near you? Post in the comments, and we'll do our best to help!

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