Types of Plastic Packaging Symbols – A Quick Guide

Have you ever wondered what the numbers inside the little recycling symbol mean on all of the plastic packaging and plastic products that we use?

recyclable_plastics1

The symbols are known as “resin codes” and were established by the SPI – The Plastics Industry Trade Association (www.plasticsindustry.org) in 1988 responding to the requests of the many recyclers across the country. Even though the plastic recycling symbols have been in place for over 20 years now it still is not common knowledge as to which plastics can easily be recycled.

Below is our guide to each type of plastic, how it is used and what it can be recycled into;

1 – PETE – Polyethylene Terephthalate

types_of_plastic_1_peteDescription:
Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET, PETE) is clear, tough, and has good gas and moisture barrier properties. Cleaned, recycled PET flakes and pellets are in great demand for spinning fiber for carpet yarns, producing fiberfill and geo-textiles.Fiber made from PETE is known as polyester.

Uses:
Plastic bottles for soft drinks, water, juice, sports drinks, beer, mouthwash, catsup and salad dressing. Food jars for peanut butter, jelly, jam and pickles. Oven proof plastic film and microwavable food trays. In addition to packaging, PET’s major uses are textiles, monofilament, carpet, strapping, films, and engineering moldings.

Recycled PETE is Made Into:
Fiber for carpet, fleece jackets, comforter filling and tote bags. It can also be recycled into containers for food, drinks bottles and non-food items.

2 – HDPE – High density Polyethylene

types_of_plastic_2_hdpeDescription:
High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) is used to make many types of bottles. Unpigmented bottles are translucent, have good barrier properties and stiffness, and are well suited to packaging products with a short shelf life such as milk. Because HDPE has good chemical resistance, it is used for packaging many household and industrial chemicals such as detergents and bleach.

Uses:
Plastic bottles for milk, water, juice, cosmetics, shampoo, dish and laundry detergents and household cleaners. Bags for groceries and retail purchases. Cereal box liners. Reusable shipping containers. In addition to packaging, HDPE’s major uses are in injection molding applications, extruded pipe and conduit, plastic wood composites, and wire and cable covering.

Recycled HDPE is Made Into:
Bottles for non-food items, such as shampoo, conditioner, liquid laundry detergent, household cleaners, motor oil and antifreeze. Plastic lumber for outdoor decking, fencing and picnic tables. Pipe, floor tiles, buckets, crates, flower pots, garden edging, film and sheet and recycling bins.

3 – PVC – Polyvinyl Chloride

types_of_plastic_3_vDescription:
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC, Vinyl)has good chemical resistance, weatherability, flow characteristics and stable electrical properties. Products made from Vinyl can be both rigid and flexible.

Uses:
Rigid packaging applications include blister packs and clamshells. Flexible packaging uses include bags for bedding and medical, shrink wrap, deli and meet wrap. In addition to packaging, PVC’s major uses are rigid applications such as pipe, siding, window frames, fencing, decking and railing. Flexible applications include medical products such as blood bags and medical tubing, wire and cable insulation, carpet backing, and flooring.

Recycled PVC is Made Into:
Pipe, decking, fencing, paneling, gutters, carpet backing, floor tiles and mats, resilient flooring, mud flaps, cassette trays, electrical boxes, cables, traffic cones, garden hose and mobile home skirting. Packaging, film and sheet and loose-leaf binders.

4 – LDPE Low-density Polyethylene

types_of_plastic_4_ldpeDescription:
Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) is used predominately in film applications due to its toughness, flexibility and relative transparency, making it popular for use in applications where heat sealing is necessary. LDPE also is used to manufacture some flexible lids and bottles as well as in wire and cable applications.

Uses:
Bags for dry cleaning, newspapers, bread, frozen foods, fresh produce, and household garbage. Shrink wrap and stretch film. Coatings for paper milk cartons and hot and cold beverage cups. Container lids. Toys. Squeezable bottles (e.g., honey and mustard).

Recycled LDPE is Made Into:
Shipping envelopes, garbage can liners, floor tile, paneling, furniture, film and sheet, compost bins, trash cans, landscape timber and outdoor lumber.

5 – PP – Polypropylene

types_of_plastic_5_ppDescription:
Polypropylene (PP) has good chemical resistance, is strong, and has a high melting point making it good for hot-fill liquids. This resin is found in flexible and rigid packaging, fibers, and large molded parts for automotive and consumer products.

Uses:
Containers for yogurt, margarine, takeout meals and deli foods. It is also used for medicine bottles, bottle caps and bottles for catsup and syrup. In addition to packaging, PP’s major uses are in fibers, appliances and consumer products, including durable applications such as automotive and carpeting

Recycled PP is Made Into:
Automobile applications, such as battery cases, signal lights, battery cables, brooms and brushes, ice scrapers, oil funnels, and bicycle racks. Garden rakes, storage bins, shipping pallets, sheeting and trays.

6 – PS – Polystyrene

types_of_plastic_6_psDescription:
Polystyrene (PS) otherwise known by it’s brand name “Styrofoam” is a versatile plastic that can be rigid or foamed. General purpose polystyrene is clear, hard and brittle. It has a relatively low melting point. Typical applications include protective packaging, food packaging, bottles, and food containers. PS is often combined with rubber to make high impact polystyrene (HIPS) which is used for packaging and durable applications requiring toughness.

Uses:
Food service items, such as cups, plates, bowls, cutlery, hinged takeout containers (clamshells), meat and poultry trays, and rigid food containers (e.g., yogurt). These items may be made with foamed or non-foamed PS. Protective foam packaging for furniture, electronics and other delicate items. Packing peanuts, known as “loose fill.” Compact disc cases and aspirin bottles. In addition to packaging, PS’s major uses are in agricultural trays, electronic housings, cable spools, building insulation, video cassette cartridges, coat hangers and medical products and toys.

Recycled PS Is Made Into:
Thermal insulation, thermometers, light switch plates, vents, desk trays, rulers, and license plate frames. Cameras or video cassette casings. Foamed foodservice applications, such as egg shell cartons. Plastic mouldings (i.e., wood replacement products). Expandable polystyrene (EPS) foam protective packaging.

Finding a local company that can recycle polystyrene / styrofoam can be difficult but there are more becoming available. There is a company in the Dallas / Ft Worth area called Metro Styrofoam;

Metro Styrofoam

1628 Terre Colony Street, Dallas, TX, (214) 231-3626

http://www.metrofoamrecycling.com/

7 – Other

types_of_plastic_7_otherDescription:
Other. Use of this code indicates that a package is made with a plastic other than the six listed above, or is made of more than one plastic and used in a multi-layer combination.

Uses:
Three and five-gallon reusable water bottles, some citrus juice and catsup bottles. Oven-baking bags, barrier layers and custom packaging.

Recycled Mixed Plastics Can Be Made Into:
Bottles and plastic lumber applications.

Recyclable Plastic Code Video;

You can view a detailed video on the different types of plastics and their resin codes below, courtesy of the Plastics Industry Trade Association;


Thanks for reading we hope you enjoyed the Our Everyday Earth guide to recyclable plastics.

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  2. For Beginners, Recycling 101
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About Martin

Martin is the editor of the Our Everyday Earth Green Blog. He has a passion for all things eco-friendly, especially green technology.

3 Responses to “Types of Plastic Packaging Symbols – A Quick Guide”

  1. Plastic packaging has become indispensable to the world. A global trend has emerged to produce hi-tech, sophisticated and eye-catching plastic packaging.

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