What Kind of Plastic Can Be Recycled?

Plastic Containers

Plastic—a wonderful lightweight packaging option for reduced shipment costs. The call for plastic is high to manufacturers because of its moldability and versatility. Plastic’s resilience to breakage decreases the probability of cracking during transportation. While business owners see the value in plastic for their manufacturing, consumers are increasingly demanding eco-friendly products.

Before starting your next packaging project, it is important to understand what RIC plastic codes represent and whether each code is easily accessible for buyers to recycle at their local recycling facility.

Recycling codes for plastic

Plastic Resin Code

At the bottom of every plastic container, you may have noticed a chasing arrow in the shape of a triangle surrounding a number ranging from one to seven. This mark is referred to as a Resin Identification Code (RIC) and serves as a blueprint to determine which resin (chemicals) are used to manufacture a plastic, thus helping recycling plants sort and categorize according to their type.

Not every plastic is created the same way because each have their own purpose. RIC codes differentiate each resin by the temperature that was used to manufacture the plastic.

Are all types of plastic recyclable?

Despite a plastic product having a recycling sign, it does not mean it can be recycled. Generally, when plastics are labeled “non-recyclable”, it means it is not widely accepted and not curbside pick-up appropriate.

What prevents plastics from being curbside appropriate?

Difficulty sorting

Plastics need to be separated and sorted because they all were created differently by their chemical and physical properties. This means they cannot be recycled together. Sometimes even plastics with the same number cannot be combined based off of how they were made such as blow molding or injection molding. Each method requires different chemicals to manufacture thus react differently to heat.

Plastic type

Some plastics are made of chemicals that prevent it from becoming a new container to hold foods and beverages. Although this product cannot hold consumable products in its second life, it can be recycled into an industrial product. However, finding recycling plants that accept these plastics are difficult and expensive to ship. In addition, certain plastics are more difficult to break down due to the chemicals used to manufacture the plastic. Breaking these resins down requires many resources that recycling plants are restricted in.

Limited resources

Industries are getting imaginative in creating hybrid-like products that combine plastics. As an example, coffee cups appear to be made of paper, but a thin layer of plastic is lined inside the cup, allowing the container to withstand high temperatures. A special machine is required to separate the two so they can be sorted to their plastic type according. Equipment such as this is typically not easily accessible to many recycling facilities.

Which plastic numbers are recyclable?

PET Resin

Number 1 - Polyethylene Terephthalate

Curbside pick-up? Typically, yes.

PETE is a thermoplastic commonly recognized by it’s clear and non-streaky finish. This plastic is a great option to package food and beverage containers, typically soda and water bottles.

Is used in…

Water bottles, plastic soda bottles, salad dressing containers, mouthwash bottles, peanut butter containers, microwavable food trays.

Is recycled to make…

  • Fashion items
  • Rugs
  • fiber
  • Furniture
  • Carpet
  • Paneling
HDPE Resin

Number 2 - High-Density Polyethylene

Curbside pick-up? Typically, yes.

Plastic #2 is the most used resin characterized by its frosted translucent finish and flexible properties. HDPE is known for its strength, versatility and reliable chemical resistance. Industries such as food, pharmaceutical, household chemicals, and automotive utilize this plastic for their products. Because HDPE is so compatible with a wide variety of industries, it is the most commonly used resin in PCR products.

Is used in...

Milk jugs, yogurt tubs, shampoo bottles, detergent, motor oil, household cleaners, film packaging.

Is recycled to make…

  • Toys
  • Pens
  • Detergent bottles
  • Floor tiles
  • Flowerpots
  • Fencing
  • Picnic tables
PVC Resin

Number 3 - Polyvinyl or Vinyl

Curbside pick-up? Typically, no.

PVC can be distinguished by its clear yet streaky finish. This plastic is a good choice to store products that require long term storage. Plastic #3 is not commonly accepted by curbside recycling programs. However, it can be accepted by some plastic lumber makers. It is best to ask your local waste management whether disposing this plastic in the trash or dropping it off at a collection center is proper.

Is used in…

Cooking oil bottles, clear food packaging, shampoo bottles, medical equipment, piping, windows, shower curtains, garden hoses.

Is recycled to make…

  • Decks
  • Paneling
  • Roadway gutters
  • Flooring
  • Cables
  • Speed bumps
LDPE Resin

Number 4 - Low-Density Polyethylene

Curbside pick-up? Typically, no.

LDPE, like HDPE, has a natural, frosted and translucent finish. Plastic #4 is flexible and can be identified by its squeezable and malleable feel often used in personal care, pharmaceutical and food industries. LDPE can technically be recycled. However, because plastic bags are frequently created with this resin, it is not widely accepted by recycling plants since it can easily get caught in machinery.

Is used in…

Shampoo, lotion, honey, eye drop or other bottles that require squeezing, plastic grocery bags, shrink wraps, dry cleaner garment bags.

Is recycled to make…

  • Trash can liners and cans
  • Compost bins
  • Lumber
  • Landscaping tiles
  • Floor tiles
  • Shipping envelopes
PP Resin

Number 5 – Polypropylene

Curbside pick-up? Typically, yes.

Plastic type #5 is known for its hot fill capabilities because of its high melting point. Such products that utilize PP’s properties are spices, sauces, syrups and beverages that require a hot fill process. This plastic is less widely received by recycling facilities than other resins.

Is used in…

Hot fill food and beverage bottles, margarine or yogurt containers, cereal and potato chip bags, detergent, motor oil, household cleaners, film packaging.

Is recycled to make…

  • Brooms
  • Bins
  • Ice scrapers
  • Plastic lumbers
  • Bicycle racks
  • Industrial applications
PS Resin

Number 6 – Polystyrene

Curbside pick-up? Typically, no.

This plastic is characterized by its clear appearance and rigid properties. PS is suitable for applications that require fine detailed molds such as laboratory bottles. This plastic is also used for mass produced items such as disposable cutlery. Polystyrene is typically not accepted by recycling plants because of the chemicals used to manufacture this type.

Is used in…

Styrofoam drinking cups, take-out containers, packing peanuts, disposable plates and cups, meat trays, egg cartons, compact disc cases.

Is recycled to make…

  • Plastic wood
  • Insulation
  • Pens

Number 7 – Miscellaneous

Curbside pick-up? Typically, no.

Any resin that is not categorized in the previous six classifications are combined to make type #7. This type is commonly characterized by its clarity and toughness. Like PS, type #7 is typically not accepted by recycling plants because of the chemicals and multiple plastics used to manufacture this type.

Is used in…

5-gallon water bottles, bulletproof materials, sunglasses, phone and laptop cases, headlight lenses, safety shields, CDs.

Is recycled to make…

  • Plastic lumber
  • Custom-made items

How can we help?

Whether you’re just getting started with your packaging project or have questions about plastic packaging options, we’re happy to help! Give us a call at 630.629.6600 or email us at Sales@TheCaryCompany.com.

Or, if you wish to explore plastic products, browse our huge selection of plastic containers for your next packaging project!