What Recycling Symbol Numbers Can I Recycle?

Do you ever find it hard to know what you can and can’t recycle if it doesn’t say so on the packet or isn’t immediately obvious? We were confused as well. So we did a little research and here’s what we’ve learnt on what can be recycled and what to look out for when placing your plastic trash in the bin. Obviously, our mission is to create a plastic-free world through cardboard alternatives, however while plastic still exists, here’s some ways to prevent your recyclable plastic products ending up in landfill. 

Now, just because a plastic item has a triangle on it with a number inside, doesn’t mean that it is recyclable. The list below is going to help you work out which products can and can’t be recycled according to the number.

A triangle with a number (1 to 7) inside stamped on a plastic container or bottle is part of the Resin Identification Code. This code identifies the type of resin the plastic product is made from, not whether it can be recycled. People often confuse the 'resin identification code' for the general recycling symbol, which involves three chasing arrows.

1 - PETE or PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)

PETE or PET is the most common plastic form in the world. Think water, soft drink or detergent bottles. It’s clear, flexible and lightweight. When broken down into its fibrous form it creates polyester, which is used in clothing, home furnishings, insulation, and a wide range of synthetic products. Products containing the PETE or PET resin code 1 can be recycled. 

2 - HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) 

This type of material is similar to PETE or PET, but tends to be a slightly thicker clear or coloured plastic used for shampoo and conditioner bottles, cleaning products, beauty products and cutting boards. HDPE products with code 2 can be recycled. 

3 – V or PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)

Commonly referred to as PVC, contains harmful chemicals used in toys, pipes, blinds, home construction products, cable wiring insulation and food packaging. It is a known carcinogen by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer. (Ecowatch 2014). Due to the toxicity of this plastic, PVC resin code 3, should never end up in landfill. There are companies that accept specific PVC products to recycle. PIPA and Vinyl Council Australia list companies that accept PVC waste Australia wide or get in touch with your local council. 

4 – LDPE (Low-density Polyethylene)

LDPE is the material used to create cling wrap, garbage bags, sandwich bags and is usually a soft and flexible material. Get in touch with your local council to see if they accept it as a part of their recycling programs, however generally they don’t recycle LDPE resin code 4 plastics. Some will state on the back that the plastic can be returned to your supermarket where they run recycling programs such as REDcycle. These programs are working in conjunction with supermarkets to reduce the amount of plastic that goes into landfill, where the plastic can’t be recycled by council recycling systems.

5 – PP (Polypropylene)

Polypropylene materials can be used to create products like ice cream containers and lids, plastic takeaway containers and bottles. Polypropylene resin code 5 products can be recycled.

6 – PS (Polystyrene)

Polystyrene doesn’t break down and 40% is being used for single-use or short-term packaging. The only types that can be repurposed into domestic building products are clean, white polystyrene used for appliances, vegetable boxes and plastic bags. Everything else, which includes meat trays and other similar food packaging, plastic foam and wrapping, bean bag beans, colourful polystyrene and tape can’t be recycled. These products also can’t be placed in your kerbside recycle bin, only landfill, so you need to contact your local council and find out where this material can be dropped off. Here in Victoria the Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group have resources listed on their website. 

An eco-friendly alternative to this environmentally harmful product is cardboard! Where possible use cardboard, such as our Perforated or Shredded Cardboard, to fill those packages, hampers and gift boxes. If you do end up with this product in your home, try to repurpose it for another use. 

7 – All other plastics

This is the code used for all other types of plastics and should not be placed in your recycling bin. 

Hopefully this helps shed some light on those numbers listed on your plastic products and how to recycle them. We look forward to a plastic free world, however in the interim, we can support our local waste systems by understanding the processes and utilising the specific companies who can safely recycle toxic plastics. Through this learning process we generate awareness of how our over reliance on plastic is creating a toxic world and start choosing healthier alternatives.

Resources: 

City of Yarra (2019), Recycling plastics, https://www.yarracity.vic.gov.au/news/2019/10/29/recycling-plastics

Ecobin (2021), Understand recycling codes, https://www.ecobin.com.au/understand-recycling-codes


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