Distinguishing Between Plastics

It can be hard to tell what’s inside a plastic just by looking at it. Thankfully, the recycling codes printed on the bottoms or sides of plastic containers can give us clues. Here’s a breakdown of the plastics you see every day:

Plastic Name Found in Safe?
#1 (PETE) soft drink, water, sports drink, ketchup, and salad dressing bottles; peanut butter, pickle, jelly and jam jars; synthetic fibers Generally okay to use when new; do not reuse PETE bottles; very often recycled; do not these products
#2 (HDPE) opaque milk, water, and juice bottles; yogurt and margarine tubs; cereal box liner; grocery, trash, and retail bags; corrosion-resistant piping; and plastic lumber Okay to use; not known to leach chemicals; may want to avoid because HDPE is made from petroleum
#3 (PVC) food wrap, cooking oil bottles, and plumbing pipes Do not use! known to contain leachable phthalates
#4 (LDPE) most plastic bags, some food wraps, food storage containers, tubing, molded laboratory equipment, “polypro” clothing, sweat-wicking clothing Okay to use; not known to leach chemicals
#5 (Polypropylene) plastic carts, and reusable food containers, packaging and labeling, textiles, stationery, lab equipment, loudspeakers, car components, polymer banknotes Okay to use; not known to leach chemicals; highly resistant to corrosion from solvents, acids, bases, and physical damage
#6 (Polystyrene) clamshell containers, lids, bottles, trays, tumblers, disposable cutlery, styrofoam, protective packaging, napalm-B Do not use; extremely slow to degrade; huge source of litter across the globe; manufactured using environmentally toxic hydrofluorocarbons
#7 (Misc, including PLA) beverage containers, food storage containers, medical implants, compostable packing material, many other items Only use #7 plastics labeled with leaf or letters “PLA” (renewable bioplastics); all miscellaneous plastics fall #7 category; many contain BPA
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