Posted by: Thixia | August 12, 2008

Plastics by the numbers

 

Plastic pervades our lives, and we use tons of it every year to store and stow our foods, drinks, personal care products, and medicines. There are at least 7 types of plastic you may use on a regular basis, some sturdier than others, some safer for your health or for the environment, and some you’d be better off avoiding all together.

 

To know which is which, you need to know the plastic recycling codes. Usually stamped on the bottom of a container, this code will clue you in to its risks and its recycling potential. So, when choosing a take-out container, water jug, or baby bottle, flip it, and check it – and, after using it, chuck it in the right place so it gets properly recycled.

 

Here’s a run-down of all the codes, the plastics used for them, where you’ll find these plastics, whether they’re safe, and whether they’re easy to recycle.

 

 

#

Name

Where you’ll find it

Is it safe?

Is it easy to recycle?

1

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE)

One-use pop or water bottles

Liquid cough medicine bottles

Yes. But due to potential for bacteria buildup, do not use more than once for holding beverages.

Yes.

2

High density polyethylene (HDPE)

Detergent and shampoo bottles

Translucent milk jugs

Yes. No known risk of chemical leaking into product.

Yes.

3

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)

Meat wrappers

Cooking oil bottles

Some water bottles

Questionable. PVC contains phthalates, which are suspected carcinogens and hormone disrupters.

Yes, but make sure to sort #3 plastic bottles separately from #1 plastic. Mixing of these two types can greatly disrupt the recycling process.

4

Low-density polyethylene (LDPE)

Grocery bags

Sandwich bags

Cling wrap

Toilet paper, paper towel wrappers

Yes. This is the material used to make opaque reusable baby bottles.

Yes, but not all municipal recycling programs accept #4 plastic.

5

Polypropylene

Yogurt cups

Disposable diapers

Yes. No known risks associated with #5 plastic.

Yes, but not all municipal recycling programs accept #5 plastic.

6

Polystyrene (PS, Styrofoam)

Disposable coffee cups

Disposable cutlery

Take-out containers

Questionable. Both the clear form and the more common Styrofoam contain styrene, a suspected carcinogen and hormone disrupter, which can leach into food.

No. Many municipal recycling programs do not accept #6 containers. But some do, so check your local recycling program.

7

Polycarbonate (PC)

Baby bottles

Reusable water bottles

Water cooler bottles

Food storage

Medicine bottles

Questionable. PC contains bisphenol-A (BPA), a suspected carcinogen and hormone disrupter. Avoid heating this kind of plastic.

No. Many municipal recycling programs do not accept #7 containers. But some do, so check your local recycling program.

 

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