We thought we could help all you Climate Mamas and Papas understand a little better what those tiny triangles and numbers on the bottom of your plastics mean, so you can help keep these plastics out of landfills and figure out which ones can be recycled. Check with your municipality as not all areas recycle all plastics. According to Earth911, less then 1% of all plastics are recycled, yet recycling one plastic bottle can conserve enough energy to light a 60-watt light bulb for up to six hours. Remember where plastics come from – oil; the “number one” fossil fuel contributing to global warming and climate change. Plastic bottles of all shapes and sizes also play a big part in filling up our landfills. In the USA, North Carolina, Massachusetts and Wisconsin all have laws against throwing plastic #1 and #2 bottles into landfills.
Enough statistics, lets get to the nitty gritty – what do those little triangles mean? The triangle symbol was developed by the Society of Plastics Industry in 1988 and is used universally to mean that something is recyclable. The numbers inside the triangles or the universal resin code (1-7) tell you what kind of plastic is being used. The number isn’t mandatory though, so lots of plastics still don’t contain one. For those that do, let’s look at what they mean for recycling but also for your health! Keep in the back of your mind the numbers 2, 4 and 5 we will tell you why later on…
#1 is used primarily for water, soft drink and beer bottles and is best known as PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate). These bottles are considered “single” use and shouldn’t be reused, as they can’t be cleaned properly and bacteria will build up in them; an unhealthy combination all around!
#2 is used in things like milk jugs, juice bottles, and shampoo and detergent bottles. It is better known as HDPE or high-density polyethylene. It is considered “safe” as it isn’t known to leach chemicals easily.
#3 is used in cooking oil bottles, clear food packaging, piping and siding. You might know it better as PVC, or vinyl. PVC contains dioxins and you should never heat it and cook with it!
#4 is often used for squeezable bottles, dry cleaning and plastic bags. It is known as LDPE or Low Density Polyethylene. It is generally considered fine to reuse.
#5 is found in yogurt containers, syrup bottles and caps and is known as PP or Polypropylene. You can reuse these containers, but don’t put them in the dishwasher.
#6 is most commonly used for disposable plates and cups or carryout containers. It is known as PS or polystyrene, but is best known by its trademark name Styrofoam. This is a bad resin for leaching, so don’t reuse.
#7 is used in large water bottles, sunglasses, DVDs and hard plastic bottles. It is a combination of a variety of plastic resins that don’t fit into other categories. One of the #7 resins used is Polycarbonate, a hard plastic that has been getting a lot of press lately for containing BPAs or bisphenol A.
Did you remember the numbers 2, 4 and 5? If you want to reuse some of those plastic containers that are piling up in your house before you recycle them, make sure they have these numbers 2, 4 or 5 as they are your best bets because they don’t break down easily. By the way, did you know, that November 15th was “America Recycles Day?”
(Don’t worry, we didn’t either but we will remind you next year! Check out the website at www.americarecyclesday.org and get your kids to try out their Conversionator – its pretty cool!!).