There are seven different categories of plastics that can be recycled, as described below:
A strong, shatter-resistant plastic that is inexpensive to produce. Bottles for soda, water, mouthwash, various foods (peanut butter, salad dressing, vegetable oil), as well as food trays and some household cleaners. May be recycled into fleece, clothing, fiberfill in coats, tote bags, furniture, carpet, paneling and automotive parts. PETE is lightweight, one of the most recyclable plastics and poses a low risk of leaching toxic chemicals into contents. Like all traditional plastics, it’s petroleum-based. Collected by most curbside recycling programs.
High density polyethylene
A lightweight, translucent, flexible plastic used for bottles for milk, juice, bleach, detergent, shampoo and motor oil. May also used for margarine and yogurt containers, plastic wrap products, some grocery bags. Can be recycled into bttles, pens, bins, tile, drainage pipe, lumber. One of the most common and least toxic petroleum-based plastics, with a low risk of leaching. Collected by most curbside recycling programs.
#3 V or PVC
Vinyl or Polyvinyl Chloride
A durable plastic widely found, for example, in water pipes, bottles for window cleaner, detergent, shampoo and cooking oil, meat wraps, baby bottle nipples, teethers, squeeze toys, coffee containers, shrink wrap, shower curtains, raincoats, vinyl dashboards, seat covers, some construction materials, electronic and medical equipment. Rarely recycled but is accepted by some plastic lumber makers for decking, paneling, gutters, flooring, cables, mats. Potential toxicity from release of dioxin, a potent carcinogen, during production and disposal; and leaching of phthalates, used to make PVC flexible.
Low density polyethylene
Found in squeezable bottles; bread, frozen food, dry cleaning and shopping bags; wrapping film, clothing; furniture; carpet. May be recycled into trash can liners and cans, compost bins, envelopes, paneling, lumber, landscaping ties, floor tile. Not often recycled curbside, but some communities accept it. Gradually getting easier to recycle.
Found in rigid containers, including some baby bottles, cups and bowls. Also may be found in syrup, ketchup and medicine bottles, yogurt containers, margarine tubs, straws, microwavable meal trays, diapers, outdoor carpet. May be recycled into signal lights, battery cables, brooms, brushes, auto battery cases, ice scrapers, landscape borders, bicycle racks, bins, pallets, trays. Recycled through some curbside programs. Has a high melting point, so is often chosen to contain hot materials. Likely poses a low risk of leaching.
Found in coffee cups, disposable cutlery and cups (clear and colored), bakery shells, meat/fish trays, “cheap” hubcaps, packing peanuts, styrofoam insulation, yogurt containers, carry out containers, egg cartons, protective product packaging (e.g., for toys and electronics such as compact disc cases. Insulation, egg cartons, vents, rulers, foam packing, carry-out containers. Some styrene compounds may leach from food containers and disrupt normal hormonal functioning. Styrene is also considered a possible human carcinogen. Rarely recyclable curbside.
#7 Miscellaneous other plastics
Found in large water containers, bullet-proof materials, DVDs, iPods, signs, food containers, nylon. Also some baby bottles, some metal can linings. Products labeled as “other” are made of any combination of 1-6 or other, less commonly used plastics including compostable plastics made from corn or other plants (which are safe and green!). Not usually recycled. May be recycled into plastic lumber, custom products.
The most controversial is polycarbonate, which can release bisphenol A, a suspected hormone disruptor, into liquids and foods. Compostable plastics are easy to dispose of, but the rest can be tricky.