Everyone’s seen those numbers on plastic packaging, but until recently, I really didn’t know what they meant. Here’s the 411 in a nutshell.
The numbers you’ll see range from 1 to 7 and refers to the type of plastic that’s been used to make that product. For you, it’s also a shorthand for potential health risk and the recycle-ability of the product. Fortunately, in DC, plastics of all numbers EXCEPT PLASTIC#6 (Styrofoam) are recyclable. Plastics#6 (Styrofoam) and plastics of any number that are made into food (saran) wrap, “clamshells”, motor oil or pesticide containers aren’t recyclable in DC.
A few more details on each of the plastics are provided below:
- Plastic #1, polyethylene terephtalate, is also known as PETE or PET. Think soda bottles. It’s considered safe but porous, so it's best not to reuse these containers. Plastic#1 is recyclable in DC.
- Plastic #2 is high density polyethylene, or HDPE. Think milk jugs. It’s considered safe and is recyclable in DC.
- Plastic #3 is polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Goods include food wrap, cooking oil bottles, and plumbing pipes. It’s not considered safe to cook food in or near it. DC recycles Plastic #3.
- Plastic #4 is low density polyethylene (LDPE). Think grocery bags, ziplocks, some food wraps, squeezable bottles, and bread bags. It’s considered safe. Plastic#4 is recyclable in DC.
- Plastic #5 is polypropylene and used for yogurt cups other wide-necked containers as well as medicine, ketchup, and syrup bottles, and straws. Plastic#5 is safe and is recyclable in DC.
- Plastic #6 is polystyrene, or Styrofoam. There’s some evidence that Plastic#6 leaches potentially toxic chemicals, especially when heated. Plastic#6 is not recyclable in DC.
- Plastic #7 is essentially “what's not plastic 1-6” including polycarbonate plastics and BPA. Common products include iPods, computer cases as well as some baby bottles and food storage containers. Plastic#7 is also used for milk/soda crates, plastic buckets with metal handles, plastic laundry baskets, plastic lawn furniture, plastic totes, plastic drums, plastic coolers, plastic flower pots, plastic drinking cups/glasses, plastic 5-gallon water bottles, plastic pallets, and plastic toys and all of these are recyclable in DC.