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Plastic Panic? How to Identify Safe and Recyclable Plastics

These days it is possible to recycle plastic, but there are several different kinds of plastic, and they differ in some important respects. Some plastics are more likely to leach into the environment than are others. Some are more bio-degradable than others and some are simply safer to use.

Plastic containers always have a symbol on the bottom. It's a triangle with a number in it. The number indicates the type of plastic used to make the container. There are seven kinds of plastics:

1) PETE or PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)

Plastic #1 is usually clear and used to make soda and water bottle, beer bottles, salad dressing bottles, peanut butter jars, and mouthwash bottles. It can be recycled as furniture, fleece, carpet, and tote bags. While many recycling programs accept it, it is known to let bacteria accumulate.

2) HDPE (High Density Polyethylene)

Plastic #2 is generally opaque, and it is one of the three safest plastics to use. It tends not leach much. It is used to make milk jugs, shampoo bottles, juice bottles, butter tubs, and household cleaner containers. It can be recycled as pens, picnic tables, benches, fencing and lumber. Most curbside pickup recycling programs accept it.

3) V or PVC (Vinyl)

Plastic #3 is used to make food wrap, detergent bottles, plumbing pipes, medical equipment, and shampoo bottles. It can be recycled as flooring, speed bumps, and decks. This plastic may still contain phthalates which have been linked to miscarriages and some birth defects. Plastic #3 also contains DEHA which can cause cancer after prolonged exposure. People should not burn or cook with this plastic. Curbside recycling programs usually won't accept it.

4) LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene)

Plastic #4 is one of the three safest plastics to use. It is used to make shopping bags, clothing, squeezable bottles, bread bags, and carpet. It can be recycled into compost bins, floor tiles and paneling. Curbside recycling programs are starting to pick up this plastic.

5) PP (Polypropylene)

Plastic #5 is one of the three safest plastics to use, and it is used to make yogurt containers, shampoo bottles and medicine bottles. It can be recycled into brooms, ice scrapers, signal lights and bicycle racks. Recycling programs increasingly accept it.

6) PS (Polystyrene)

Plastic #6 is more commonly known as Styrofoam which is notoriously hard to recycle. It is therefore bad for the environment. It also leaches potentially dangerous chemicals, especially when heated. It is used to make egg cartons, meat trays and disposable plates and cups. Recycling programs usually don't accept it.

7) Miscellaneous

Plastic #7 is a catch-all for any plastic that doesn't fit into the above six categories. It's a mixed bag, and some of the plastics in this group contain the chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) which has been linked to health problems like hyperactivity and infertility. It can be used to make sunglasses, nylon, and computer cases. It can be recycled into plastic lumber.

It is usually best to avoid plastics as much as possible. But if using a plastic is necessary, it is best to choose Plastics #2, #4, or #5. Given the dangers associated with them, Plastics #1, #3, #6 and #7 should not be used or recycled.

Informational Credit to Lakeshore Recycling


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