Deciphering Recycling Numbers

Just because an item contains a recycling symbol doesn’t always mean it is safe and easy to recycle. The numbers that appear within those recycling symbols are very important to recognize and understand.


The single-digit numbers (1-7) contained within the recycling symbols are called “resin numbers”. Contrary to popular belief, these numbers do not identify how hard a material is to recycle; they simply are used to mark the specific type of plastic. Certain types of plastic are harder to recycle than others, and some should not even be put in your everyday recycling bin.


1              (PETE – Polyethylene, Terephthalate)
                Common uses: soda and water bottles, polyester fibers, food packaging.
                Safe to recycle, but not re-usable.          

2              (HDPE – High-density Polyethylene)
                Common uses: Recycling bins, various bottles such as milk, or motor oil.
                Safe to recycle.

3              (PVC – Polyvinyl Chloride)
                Common uses: toys, furnishings, plastic pipes, and non-food bottles.

4              (LDPE – Low-density Polyethylene)
                Common uses: Grocery or sandwich bags, plastic wrap, dispensing bottles.
                Safe to recycle.

5              (PP – Polypropylene)
                Common uses: Clothes, tubs, auto parts, Endura binders.
                Safe to recycle.

6              (PS – Polystyrene)
                Common uses: Foam cups or food trays, packing peanuts, video cases.

7              (Other)
                Various other applications such as bottles.


For the most part, items containing resin numbers of 1 or 2 are safe and can be placed in your recycling bin for curbside pick-up. Numbers 4 and 5 (while marked safe above) are not always picked up by waste management authorities. Different states and counties have varying guidelines, so it is always best to call your local waste authority to find out their policy before placing an item with a resin number of 4 or 5 in your curbside bin.

For the remaining resin numbers, they almost always cannot be placed in your curbside bin. To arrange pick-up for these, call your local waste management service for names of companies that can accomodate those plastic types.  Mixing un-recyclable products with recyclable products can cause more harm than good, and staying informed is key to doing the right thing. Happy sorting!

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