Thursday, January 26, 2012

The 1,2,3s….and 4,5,6 and 7s of Plastics and Recycling in DC

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. 
I used this article to write this post.  It's a great resource for the health benefits of the various plastics. 


  1. Thank you for this...very helpful.

    I went to the DC Government Recycle page and they described items by what they looked like, not by the numbers. It's actually MORE confusing that way--numbers are easier ... best is both description and numbers

    I'm going to write the head of the recycling dept and suggest they do both. NYC where I'm from uses the numbers and then gives examples.


  2. I like your blog post. Keep on writing this type of great stuff. I'll make sure to follow up on your blog in the future.
    Jay Katari

  3. Thank you so much for writing a lot of this good information! I am looking forward to reading more.
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  4. Hi Cathy,
    I loved reading this piece! Well written!

    Merlen Hogg

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. I have found this article very exciting. Do you have any others on this topic? I am also sending it to my friend to enjoy your writing style. Thanks
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  7. I put out 5 transparent trash bags of styrofoam today and neither the trash truck nor the recycling truck picked the styrofoam trash bags up! Anyone knows what I am supposed to do?

    1. If they're styrofoam p-nuts for packaging, you can drop them off at a Mailbox Etc store for recycling. Otherwise, try a local list serv or Freecycle DC. In the future, specify that you don't want styrofoam or plastic packaging in the "special instructions" box when you buy on line. Thanks for your interest!

  8. Recently i ran into your website and so are already reading along. I think I’d leave my first comment. I don’t understand what to share with the exception that I’ve enjoyed reading. Nice blog. For certain i will keep visiting your blog really often.
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  9. The information which you have provided is very good. It is very useful who is looking for HDPE Containers Manufacturers.

  10. I am a visitor, and don't have a clue where to recycle plastic carrier bags in DC, I'd be grateful if you please help me with the issue.

  11. To tell the truth, I also didn't know what these numbers meant. Thanks a lot for sharing. I have bookmarked the webpage and will send it to my friends to let them know. By the way, our online proofreading service is offering hefty discounts!

  12. Good post! About the waste Styrofoam(#6), our company INTCO also has many machines to deal with it. Our company has compactor, melter, dewatering machine, and crusher which all can deal with it. Here is our website:

  13. Thank you for explaining this and now I know I can recycle those plastic bags too.

  14. Different types of plastic should be recycled different. And need different kinds of machine to deal with it. INTCO recycling has these machines to deal with waste plastic. you can see more information on their website:

  15. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about information and love learning more on this. If possible,it was extremely helpful for me.
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