by: Leslie Jones

With so many things in our lives being made of one type of plastic or another, it’s important to understand what these different plastics consist of and if they are able to be recycled.  Toys, packaging, electronics, and even cars almost always have some type of plastic in them.  Are they all recyclable?  Unfortunately, no.

The most popular and most abundant types of plastic are #1 polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE) and #2, high density polyethylene (HDPE).  Water bottles and soda bottles are the most used and most recycled among #1 plastics. Gallon milk jugs, some shampoo and lotion bottles, bleach containers, juice bottles, butter and yogurt containers make up the majority of #2 plastics.

Window cleaner and detergent bottles, shampoo bottles, cooking oil bottles, and clear food packaging are usually made from #3 plastic.  This type of plastic is not as readily accepted at some recycling centers.  It is called polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and contains chlorine. The manufacture of these products releases toxins into the air and, if you have to cook with it, you shouldn’t let it touch your food since it leaches these toxins, especially when heated.

Squeezable bottles, bread, frozen food, dry cleaning and shopping bags make up the majority of #4 plastics.  This is called low density polyethylene (LDPE) and is also a type of plastic that is only accepted at select recycling centers.  Due to its low density, it has a far lower melting point than some of the other plastic commodities.

As we move up the number scale of plastics, #5 usually consists of some yogurt containers, syrup bottles, ketchup bottles, caps, straws and medicine bottles. This type of plastic is called Polypropylene (PP) and has a high melting point. For this reason it is so is often chosen for containers that must hold hot liquid.

Polystyrene, or #6 plastic, can be a rigid, harder material such as aspirin bottles or compact disc cases.  It also can be made into more of a foam product commonly called Styrofoam. It’s actually hard to remember that this actually is plastic. Disposable plates and cups, meat trays, egg cartons, carry-out containers are among the items made from this type of plastic.

This brings us to the ever confusing catch-all called #7 plastic....also referred to as “miscellaneous”, “other”, and “everything else”. Sunglasses, DVDs, iPod and computer cases, signs and displays, certain food containers, and nylon are some popular examples of #7 plastics. “A wide variety of plastic resins that don't fit into the previous categories are lumped into number 7. A few are even made from plants (polylactide) and are compostable. Polycarbonate is number 7, and is the hard plastic that has parents worried these days, after studies have shown it can leach potential hormone disruptors”.*  The toxin mostly responsible for this is called Bisphenol A, or BPA.  Number 7 plastics don’t automatically contain BPA, but since it’s very difficult to know for sure, it is recommended that it be avoided in any products that come into contact with food or drinks.  

Even with the sophisticated recycling methods and programs offered by so many communities around the United States, #7 plastics are only accepted for processing in some recycling centers.

Recycling Works, the state-of-the-art recycling facility owned by Waste-Away Group, is able to accept plastics #1 - #7. As referenced in a previous article, however, Styrofoam is a lightweight commodity that is a little more difficult to recycle and find and end market for.  For more information on recyclable items, you can visit our website at and go to our Article Archive section.  A “Recycling Questions” feature is also available on the left hand side of our Homepage.  We welcome all of your recycling questions and hope you will visit us often!