What the Recycle Triangle?

Have you ever wondered what the number in the  recycle triangle symbol means?

While the use of plastics should be limited (or eliminated), some plastics are actually safer than others. It’s time to take a little step towards learning how the various plastics impact us and the environment.


Every plastic container has a recycling symbol. The symbol is a number inside a triangle. The number ranges from 1 to 7. I used to think nothing of these symbols, they can actually offer a great deal of information regarding the toxic chemicals used in the plastic, how likely the plastic is to leach, how bio-degradable the plastic is, and how safe the plastic is.

Plastic #1 – PETE or PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)

  • Plastic #1 is usually clear. While some consider it to be safe, this plastic is known to allow bacteria to accumulate.
  • It’s found mostly in soda bottles, water bottles, beer bottles, salad dressing containers, mouthwash bottles, and peanut butter containers. Whenever possible, I will purchase these items in glass jars/containers! I haven’t found a solution for mouth wash… yet. glass2
  • Plastic #1 can be  recycled into tote bags, furniture, carpet, paneling, fiber, and polar fleece.

Plastic #2 – HDPE (High Density Polyethylene)

  • Plastic #2 is one of the 3 plastics considered to be “safe” 
  • Has a lower risk of leaching.
  • It’s found mostly in milk jugs, household cleaner containers, juice bottles, shampoo bottles, cereal box liners, detergent bottles, motor oil bottles, yogurt tubs, etc.
  • Plastic #2 is recycled into pens, recycling containers, picnic tables, lumber, benches, fencing, and detergent bottles… to name a few.

Plastic #3 – V or PVC (Vinyl)

  • Plastic #3 is used to make food wrap, plumbing pipes, and detergent bottles,
  • This plastic is rarely accepted by curbside recycling programs.
  • These plastics may contain phthalates, which are linked to numerous health issues ranging from developmental problems to miscarriages.
  • Plastic #3 also contains DEHA, which can be carcinogenic with long-term exposure. DEHA has been linked to loss of bone mass and liver problems.
  • It’s found in shampoo bottles, clear food packaging, cooking oil bottles, medical equipment, piping, and windows.
  • Plastic #3 can  be recycled into paneling, flooring, speed bumps, decks, and roadway gutters.

Plastic #4 – LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene)

  • Squeezable bottles, shopping bags, clothing, carpet, frozen food, bread bags, and some food wraps.
  • Curbside recycling programs haven’t been known to pick up this plastic.
  • Plastic #4 rests among the recycling symbols considered to be safe.
  • This plastic can be recycled into compost bins, paneling, trash can liners and cans, floor tiles, and shipping envelopes.

Plastic #5 – PP (Polypropylene)

  • Plastic #5 is also one of the safer plastics to look for.
  • 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.
  • Plastic #6 is bad for the environment.
  • This kind of plastic also poses a health risk, leaching potentially toxic chemicals, especially when heated.
  • Most recycling programs won’t accept it.
  • Plastic #6 is found in compact disc cases, egg cartons, meat trays, and disposable plates and cups.


Plastic #7 – Other

  • Plastic #7 is a mix of plastics that includes polycarbonate, which contains the toxic bisphenol-A (BPA).
  • These plastics should be avoided and have been linked to several severe health issues.
  • This plastic is found in sunglasses, iPod cases, computer cases, nylon, and bullet-proof materials.




In the end, it’s really best to avoid using all plastics



Recycling is as easy as 1, 2, 3, (4, 5, 6, 7)!

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