Plastic is everywhere. It can be found on the shelves at the grocery store, as litter on the beach, and even in things you might not expect, like chewing gum or clothing. 

We know you’re working hard every day to collect your trash so it’s properly recycled, but going completely plastic-free doesn’t happen overnight. Zero-waste living takes time and resources to build new habits that make plastic alternatives a practical solution. So when you find plastic waste on your hands, what do you do with it? Let’s take a look at how you can identify what type of plastic you’re dealing with and find a solution for recycling it. 

Identify your plastic

It’d be easy to assume that a disposable water bottle and take-out food container are both made of the same plastic. Not so fast! There are seven different types of plastics, also called polymers, commonly used to make products and packaging.

To identify different types of plastic, you can check the resin code on the bottom of the plastic item. These codes are displayed with chasing arrows and a number symbol. Although often mistaken as a sign of recyclability, the number actually tells you which plastic resin the object is made from. Follow these directions to help you determine if the piece of plastic is locally recyclable or not. 

The seven types of plastic 

  1. Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE) 

This type of plastic is light, cheap, and easy to recycle. PET is often used in beverage bottles, peanut butter jars, and ketchup bottles. When you throw #1 plastic in the recycling bin, it can be turned into tote bags, carpet, new bottles, and furniture. 

  1. High-density polyethylene (HDPE) 

High-density polyethylene is identified with the #2 resin code. Since it’s a strong plastic,

HDPE is used in packaging for laundry detergent, milk, yogurt, shampoo, and more.  Like #1 plastic, #2 plastic is often recyclable through curbside programs. 

  1. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC or Vinyl) 

PVC makes up construction, pipes, and even playground equipment. PVC is a rigid and weather-resistant material. PVC is the most dangerous type of plastic since it is made of chlorine chemicals, which can be leached.

  1. Low-density Polyethylene (LDPE)

Low-density polyethylene is a flexible plastic. The clear and soft liner in beverage containers is often LDPE. LDPE also makes up plastic wrap, bread bags, and garbage bags. 

  1. Polypropylene (PP) 

Number 5 plastic, or polypropylene, is durable and known for withstanding heat. Polypropylene can hold hot material or be heated itself. Its characteristics make it a good candidate for food containers, prescription bottles, and straws.

  1. Polystyrene (PS or Styrofoam) 

Styrofoam is low cost and has insulating properties, making it a common choice for food containers. Even though it is very popular, it is one of the most dangerous plastics and can leach harmful neurotoxins into the food it contains. 

  1. Other

The “other” category holds all the remaining types of plastics. Everyday products labeled with a #7 resin code include take-out containers, sunglasses, CDs, and DVDs. 

What you can recycle curbside

Resin codes #1 and #2 are most commonly accepted. Of the seven types of plastic, typically only a few are curbside recyclable. Check with your municipal recycling service to ensure you know exactly which plastics they take at the curb. 

Breaking down naturally 

Sadly, many plastics are thrown away after a single use. It can take hundreds of years for these plastics to break down—if they do at all. A coffee cup can take 30 years to break down, and a toothbrush 500, still leaving behind microplastics. By recycling these items instead of sending them to landfills, we can keep them out of the environment and ensure the valuable material in them gets reused. 

#RecycleEverything with TerraCycle

Through TerraCycle’s variety of programs, you can recycle plastics that aren’t accepted by your municipal recycling service. Our easy-to-use free and paid solutions help everyone, including individuals, offices, schools, and more, to #RecycleEverything. Our recycling promise is that all compliant waste sent in through our free recycling programs and Zero Waste Boxes will be recycled, none will go to landfills or incinerators.

6 thoughts on “Know your plastics—and how to recycle them

  1. Good info but using the #recycleeverything is annoying because you don’t take polystyrene ps6 and neither does anywhere else

  2. Does Terrscycle accept clean, multilayer packaging through the Zero Waste Box program? Examples include: clean food wrappers, Wellness Pet food pouches (cleaned), candy wrappers. Thanks!

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