April 6, 2013

Plastics 101

Confused about those numbers inside the chasing arrows recycling triangles? You are not alone.

Here is a great review of plastic recycling symbols from the helpful folks at Nation of Change:

Plastic #1 – PETE or PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)

Picked up by most curbside recycling programs [locally ONLY in curbside bins if it has a neck], #1 plastic is usually clear and used to make soda and water bottles. 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 [again, locally it is only acceptable in curbside bins if it has a neck]. It’s found mostly in milk jugs, household cleaner containers, juice bottles, some shampoo bottles and some detergent bottles.  Plastic #2 is recycled into pens, recycling containers, picnic tables, lumber, benches, fencing, and detergent bottles.

Plastic #3 – V or PVC (Vinyl)

Plastic #3 is used to make some shampoo bottles, clear food packaging, cooking oil bottles, medical equipment, plumbing pipes and windows and is seldom accepted by curbside recycling programs[accepted locally at all three James City County Convenience Centers].  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. This plastic is recycled into paneling, flooring, speed bumps, decks, and roadway gutters.

Plastic #4 – LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene)

Low density polyethylene is most found in squeezable bottles, shopping bags, clothing, carpet, frozen food bags, bread bags, and some food wraps. Curbside recycling programs haven’t been known to pick up this plastic, but more are starting to accept it [acceptable locally at all three James City County Convenience Centers]. This plastic is recycled into compost bins, paneling, trash can liners and cans, floor tiles, and shipping envelopes.

Plastic #5 – PP (Polypropylene)

Increasingly becoming accepted by curbside recycle programs [accepted locally at all three James City County Convenience Centers]. #5 plastic is also one of the safer plastics to look for. It is typically found in yogurt containers, ketchup bottles, syrup bottles, and medicine bottles. Polypropylene is recycled into brooms, auto battery cases, bins, pallets, signal lights, ice scrapers, and bicycle racks.

Plastic #6 – PS (Polystyrene)

Polystyrene is Styrofoam, which is notorious for being difficult to recycle, and thus, bad for the environment. This kind of plastic also poses a health risk, leaching potentially toxic chemicals, especially when heated. James City County is similar to most recycling programs and won’t accept it. Plastic #6 is found in compact disc cases, egg cartons, meat trays, and disposable plates and cups. It is recycled into egg cartons, vents, foam packing, and insulation.

Plastic #7 – Other, Miscellaneous

All of the plastic resins that don’t fit into the other categories are placed in the number 7 category. It includes polycarbonate, which contains bisphenol-A (BPA), a possible hormone disruptors that has been linked to infertility, hyperactivity, reproductive problems and other health issues. #7 plastic is found in sunglasses, iPod cases, computer cases, nylon, 3- and 5-gallon water bottles, and bullet-proof materials.[It is accepted locally at all three James City County Convenience Centers]. It is commonly recycled into plastic lumber and other custom-made products.