What Do The Plastic Recycling Symbols Mean?

We have all seen them, the little triangular plastic recycling symbols made of arrows with either a number or a series of letters in them, but what are they and what do they mean?

Plastic Recycling Symbols
Plastic Recycling Symbols

Originally devised by the Plastics Industry Association in 1988 these plastic recycling symbols started appearing on UK plastic packaging some years afterwards, after a European directive.

What Are The Plastic Recycling Symbols For?

The symbols represent the 6 most common plastic types used to manufacture plastic packaging and then a final 7th symbol as a catch all for any other plastic types. The 7th symbol is also used for multi layer packaging materials have been used (common in food packaging).
 

What Are The Plastic Recycling Numbers?

Type 1 - PET Recycling
Polyethylene Terepthalate
Common Abbreviation(s): PET, PETE, APET 

Common Uses: Drinks bottles, blister packaging, strapping.

Recycled? Yes. Widely recycled via curbside collection schemes. Deposit return scheme currently being considered for PET bottles.

Type 2 - HDPE Recycling
High Density Polyethylene
Common Abbreviation(s): HDPE, PE-HD 

Common Uses: Milk bottles, chemical bottles, 5p carrier bags

Recycled? Yes. HDPE bottles are widely recycled via curbside collection schemes. HDPE film and bags not usually collected curbside but all forms of HDPE are widely recycled  from industrial sources.

Type 3 - PVC Recycling
Polyvinyl Chloride
Common Abbreviation(s): PVC, V, U-PVC

Common Uses: Pipes, bottles, window profiles, blister packaging, flooring. (largely replaced by PVC in packaging applications).

Recycled? Not usually collected curbside from residential properties but widely recycled from more industrial based sources.

Type 4- LDPE ecycling
Low Density Polyethylene
Common Abbreviation(s): LDPE, PE-LD

Common Uses: Plastic bags, tubing, shrink-wrap.

Recycled? Not usually collected curbside from residential properties but widely recycled from more industrial based sources. Baled LDPE film and shrink-wrap is one of the most commonly traded plastic commodities.

Type 5 - PP Recycling
Polypropylene
Common Abbreviation(s): PP, PPN

Common Uses: Automotive parts, multi use food containers, strapping, FIBC’s (big bags), tote boxes, margarine tubs.

Recycled? Curbside collections varies depending on local authority. Highly sought after and widely recycled in the industrial market. 

Type 6 - PS Recycling
Polystyrene
Common Abbreviation(s): PS, HIPS, EPS, GPPS

Common Uses: CD cases, plastic cutlery, yoghurt pots. In its expanded form (EPS) it is used for insulation board, packaging, takeaway cups (ie. styrofoam)  

Recycled? Curbside collections varies depending on local authority. Strong secondary market for recycled PS.

Plastic Recycling Symbols - Type - Other
Other

This category covers any other plastic types (too many to mention here). In terms of packaging this code is commonly used for multi-layer films which are not often recycled.

Many other thermoplastic types are recycled though. How many different plastic types are there? Read more …

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