We have been independently researching and testing products for more than 120 years. If you buy through our links, we may earn a commission. Learn more about our review process. The number is a resin identification code used to help recycling plants classify materials.
Recyclable plastics are labeled with numbers 1 to 7 to tell workers what type of plastic it is and how it should be processed. But it also helps recycling collectors determine which items they can accept and which ones go to the trash. A three indicates that the water bottle is made of polyvinyl chloride, a five means that it is made of polypropylene, two materials that most public recycling centers do not accept. However, since only 30 to 35% of the HDPE plastic used in the United States is recycled each year, it's wise to use as little as possible.
You can safely assume that recycling carriers will accept PET and HDPE (plastics) 1, but after that, it becomes a guessing game. With all the different rules and symbols, it can be confusing for consumers to figure out exactly what each plastic recycling symbol means and how to recycle it. Sidewalk recycling programs usually don't accept LDPE plastics, but they may be accepted at some recycling centers. Almost all products that use PVC require virgin material for their construction; less than 1% of PVC material is recycled.
HDPE plastics are recyclable and may be accepted by some curbside recycling programs, depending on the product. In addition, there are times when your recycling program can change what you collect, says Mike Brown of Brown and Wilmanns Environmental, one of Good Housekeeping's environmental consultants. Even if his city has no way of recycling certain material, he says there's still a chance that they'll collect it anyway and store or dispose of it. When recycled, LDPE plastic is used for plastic wood, garden boards, trash can liners, and tiles.
While polystyrene can be recycled, No. 6 plastics are not usually accepted in sidewalk recycling programs, but they can be accepted at some recycling centers. The purpose of the number is to identify the type of plastic used for the product, and not all plastics are recyclable or even reusable. The RIC was originally developed for the sole purpose of identifying resin content, and the SPI considered that the graph of the arrows chasing was too often associated with recyclability.
Every town and city has different recycling programs, so you'll often need to check your local regulations to find out exactly what you can recycle. However, you should check the local recycling guidelines for all of these plastics, as different cities and towns usually have different regulations.