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The Numbers on Plastic Bottles: What do Plastic Recycling Symbols Mean?

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Have you ever wondered what the numbers, or recycling symbols mean at the bottom of plastic bottles and containers? Did you know that, while the use of all plastics should be limited if at all possible, some are safer than others? It's time to learn a little bit about the various plastics you use and drink/eat from every single day, and what impact they have not only on you, but also the environment.

Every plastic container or bottle has a recycling symbol. The symbol is a number, ranging from 1 to 7, within a triangle. While you may think nothing of these symbols, they can actually offer a great deal of information regarding the toxic chemicals used in the plastic, how likely the plastic is to leach, how un-bio-degradable the plastic is, and ultimately the safety of the plastic.

Here is some information on the various recycling symbols and numbers:

The Recycling SymbolsPlastic #1 - PETE or PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)

  •  • Picked up by most curbside recycling programs, plastic #1 is usually clear and used to make soda and water bottles. Some consider it safe, but this plastic is known to allow bacteria and flavor to accumulate.
  •  • It's found mostly in soda bottles, water bottles, beer bottles, salad dressing containers, mouthwash bottles, and peanut butter containers.
  •  • Plastic #1 is recycled into tote bags, furniture, carpet, paneling, fiber, and polar fleece.

Plastic #2 - HDPE (High Density Polyethylene)

  •  • Plastic #2 is typically opaque and picked up by most curbside recycling programs. This plastic is one of the 3 plastics considered to be safe, and has a lower risk of leaching.
  •  • It's found mostly in milk jugs, household cleaner containers, juice bottles, shampoo bottles, cereal box liners, detergent bottles, motor oil bottles, yogurt tubs, and butter tubs.ilk jugs, detergent bottles, juice bottles, butter tubs, and toiletries bottles are made of this.  It is usually opaque. This plastic is considered safe and has low risk of leaching.
  •  • Plastic #2 is recycled into pens, recycling containers, picnic tables, lumber, benches, fencing, and detergent bottles, to name a few.

Plastic #3 - V or PVC (Vinyl)

  •  • Plastic #3 is used to make food wrap, plumbing pipes, and detergent bottles, and is seldom accepted by curbside recycling programs. These plastics used to, and still may, contain phthalates, which are linked to numerous health issues ranging from developmental problems to miscarriages. They also contain DEHA, which can be carcinogenic with long-term exposure. DEHA has also been linked to loss of bone mass and liver problems. Don't cook with or burn this plastic.
  •  • It's found in shampoo bottles, clear food packaging, cooking oil bottles, medical equipment, piping, and windows.
  •  • This plastic is recycled into paneling, flooring, speed bumps, decks, and roadway gutters.


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