What Do All The Numbers Mean On Recyclable Packaging?


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If you are like me, I am sure sometimes you wonder what all the different codes are on any recyclable material. It seems that every product has a different little number on the bottom! Although we here in Santa Monica can put all of our plastics into one bin, some cities and towns only allow certain kinds of plastics to be recycled. So I thought I would assemble what each number means, and I even found a PDF download of all the different recycling codes.


Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET, PETE). PET is clear, tough, and has good gas and moisture barrier properties. This resin is commonly used in beverage bottles and many injection-molded consumer product containers. Cleaned, recycled PET flakes and pellets are in great demand for spinning fiber for carpet yarns, producing fiberfill and geo-textiles. Nickname: Polyester.


High Density Polyethylene (HDPE). HDPE is used to make many types of bottles. Unpigmented bottles are translucent, have good barrier properties and stiffness, and are well suited to packaging products with a short shelf life such as milk. Because HDPE has good chemical resistance, it is used for packaging many household and industrial chemicals such as detergents and bleach. Pigmented HDPE bottles have better stress crack resistance than unpigmented HDPE.


Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC, Vinyl). In addition to its stable physical properties, PVC has good chemical resistance, weatherability, flow characteristics and stable electrical properties. The diverse slate of vinyl products can be broadly divided into rigid and flexible materials.


Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE). LDPE is used predominately in film applications due to its toughness, flexibility and relative transparency, making it popular for use in applications where heat sealing is necessary. LDPE also is used to manufacture some flexible lids and bottles as well as in wire and cable applications. Excellent resistance to acids, bases and vegetable oils.


Polypropylene (PP). PP has good chemical resistance, is strong, and has a high melting point making it good for hot-fill liquids. This resin is found in flexible and rigid packaging, fibers, and large molded parts for automotive and consumer products.


Polystyrene (PS). PS is a versatile plastic that can be rigid or foamed. General purpose polystyrene is clear, hard and brittle. It has a relatively low melting point. Typical applications include protective packaging, foodservice packaging, bottles, and food containers. PS is often combined with rubber to make high impact polystyrene (HIPS) which is used for packaging and durable applications requiring toughness, but not clarity.


Other. Use of this code indicates that a package is made with a resin other than the six listed above, or is made of more than one resin and used in a multi-layer combination.

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  1. The resin codes only mean that the plastic is recyclable, but in no way guarantees that they are actually recycleded. Neither is the fact that your curbside collector allows it in your bin. Their determination/diligence and local market condtions will determine which ones actually get recycled. Usually it’s PET and HDPE. It’s also never #7 and many times is not LDPE or PP either. They collect them, sort them, and only recycle what they get a good price for. The rest, unfortunately, may go into the landfill… As your waste management country which plastics they actually recycle at present time (rather than which ones they collect).

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