Plastic Packaging Recycling Symbols Explained

Recycling plastic can be confusing but it’s worth knowing that all thermoplastic packaging can be recycled and will have a recycling icon on the pack with a recycling code. Because thermoplastic is flexible it accounts for most plastic used in product packaging.

To help promote the recycling of packaging we thought we would give a quick guide to those little understood recycling symbols.

Recycle symbol 1

#1 Polyethylene Terephthalate – PET or PETE
PET is used for things like drinks bottles, food containers and food trays. It is a popular material to recycle and can be made into new containers, strapping, clothing like polar fleece, upholstery filling and carpet fibre.

Recycle symbol 2

#2 High-Density Polyethylene – HDPE
HDPE is another popular material for recycling and is used for milk bottles, containers for cosmetics and cleaning products. When recycled some of the things it can be used for are new containers, plumbing pipes, bins and pens.

Recycle symbol 3

#3 Poly Vinyl Chloride – PVC
PVC is found in takeaway containers, containers for chemical products, plastic bags and shrink wrap. It is not so commonly accepted at kerbside collection but can be recycled into paneling, flooring, plumbing pipes, kayaks, carpet backing, bins and traffic cones.

Recycle symbol 4

#4 Low-Density Polyethylene – LDPE
LDPE is used in stretch film like glad wrap, shrink wrap, bubble wrap, zip-lock bags, bread bags and squeezable bottles. When recycled we can use it again as things like bin liners, floor tiles, compost bins and outdoor furniture.

Recycle symbol 5

#5 Polypropylene – PP
Used for hard containers, medicine bottles, takeaway containers, bottle caps and refrigerated food containers polypropylene is a versatile plastic that is commonly collected at kerbside. When recycled it can be made into things like automotive products, household utensils, outdoor tools, trays and bins.

Recycle symbol 6

#6 Polystyrene – PS
Polystyrene can be recycled but is the least recycled plastic. We can see it in styrofoam cups, takeaway containers, meat trays, egg cartons and protective packaging. Once recycled it can come back as egg cartons, takeaway containers, protective packaging as well as light switches, plastic mouldings and insulation.

Recycle symbol 7

#7 Other/Miscellaneous
As the name suggests, if it doesn’t fit any of the above it goes here. This can include things like juice cartons, oven bags or large volume water bottles. It’s not commonly collected at kerbside but recycled products in this category can have another life as low grade bottles, outdoor goods or custom-made products.

Poly Lactic Acid – PLA
PLA is a plastic in recycling class 7 but is actually made from natural materials like corn starch and sugar cane. As a result it is not recyclable but it is biodegradable over a long period of time. Despite these advantages it can cause problems by contaminating plastic recycling. Keep an eye out for packaging made from PLA and make sure it doesn’t end up in the recycling bin.

Responsible recycling
If you start looking you’ll notice a lot of plastic bags can be recycled and have either the 2 or 5 recycling code. However plastic bags can jam equipment at recycling plants and for that reason they aren’t generally accepted for recycling.

If you’re unsure of what used plastic can be recycled by your local council give them a call or drop them a line, they will have this information available so you can make the best purchasing and disposal choices.

Plastic doesn’t have to be an environmental disaster if we dispose of it responsibly and recycle or reuse whenever possible.

Posted 14 May 2015

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