Which Types of Plastics can be Recycled?

Denise Kincy Grier
Denise Kincy Grier
Recycled plastic pellets.
Recycled plastic pellets.
Recycled plastic pellets.

To find out which types of plastic can be recycled in the local area, it may be best to contact the local municipal offices or recycling centers; most of these offices and centers have websites with contact information, such as email addresses or phone numbers, posted on their webpage, or they may include a list of recyclable plastics on their site as well. When contacting such facilities, it is suggested to first locate the plastic's resin identification code; this code is made up of one number and several letters, and is usually located on the bottom of the product. The code corresponds to the type of plastic that the object is made of and can be referred to when asking the proper agency if the plastic is recyclable or not.

Resin Identification Code

Plastic water bottles.
Plastic water bottles.
Plastic water bottles.

To help identify and sort recyclable plastic internationally, the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) developed a standard code in the late 1980s. This code simply identifies the type of plastic used to make that object; however, it does not indicate whether recyclable plastic was used to make that piece, nor does it indicate whether that type of plastic can be recycled. Generally located on the bottom of the plastic container, the code consists of three arrows that cycle clockwise and create a triangle with rounded corners. Inside each triangle is a number that identifies that plastic's type, and below each triangle is a combination of letters that correspond to the scientific name of the type of plastic. Once the resin code is identified, one can contact local government or recycling agencies to ask if that code corresponds to a type of recyclable plastic.

A plastic box.
A plastic box.
A plastic box.

There are seven different types of plastic identified by the American Society of Plastics Industry:

  • 1 PET or PETE (Polyethylene terephthalate): PET is one of the most frequently recycled plastics by consumers. Containers marked with a "1" and "PET" or "PETE" include some soft drink bottles, water bottles, plastic peanut butter jars, plastic wrap, and salad dressing bottles.

  • 2 HDPE (High-density polyethylene): This type of recyclable plastic, marked with a "2" and "HDPE" is also frequently recycled by consumers. Plastics included in this category include some plastic milk cartons, juice bottles, shampoo bottles, and liquid detergent containers.

  • 3 PVC (Polyvinyl chloride): Marked by a "3" and "PVC," this type of plastic is less commonly accepted at local recycling centers because it is more difficult to recycle. Common examples include clear food packages, liquid detergent containers, and many construction applications including some traffic cones.

  • 4 LDPE (Low density polyethylene): Marked with a "4" and "LDPE," this type of recyclable plastic is used in some bread and frozen food bags, trash cans, and garbage can liners.

  • 5 PP (Polypropylene): One plastic commonly used in the automobile and construction industries, is polypropylene; this plastic is marked with a "5" and "PP." A few examples include some car battery casings, oil funnels, and plastic drinking straws.

  • 6 PS (Polystyrene): Another type of recyclable plastic that is uncommonly used by consumers is polystyrene. Marked by a "6" and "PS," this plastic is used in some packing foam, plastic cutlery, and protective packaging for electronic goods and toys.

  • 7 Other: Some types of plastic marked as "other," "O," or with a "7" cannot be recycled as they are commonly made with a combination of the previous six types of plastic, or with a type of plastic other than the six listed above, and can't be broken down to be recycled. Common examples are headlight lenses and safety glasses; however, containers marked with a "7" that are recyclable plastic include some three- to five-gallon reusable water bottles.
Plastic shampoo bottles are usually in the 2 or HDPE group.
Plastic shampoo bottles are usually in the 2 or HDPE group.
Plastic shampoo bottles are usually in the 2 or HDPE group.

While there are many different types of plastics, not all of them can be recycled, and some of those that can may not be eligible for curbside pick-up or accepted at the local recycling location. Of the types of plastic that can be recycled, it is critical that they be recycled with their own kind because a small amount of the wrong type of plastic can ruin the melt. Therefore, sorting plastic is a critical part of the recycling process; many cities offer bins to help residents sort recyclables properly.

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Discussion Comments


Why not go back to the old days with glass, paper, etc. No plastics.


Plastic pollution is really getting worse. And plastics are difficult to degrade, which means various environmental pollution. This article is very useful for the science of plastic recycling. I also hope that everyone can use more degradable plastics.


Can plastic cat litter pails be recycled?


Regarding the post giving the cost of different types of plastic (i.e., a 12 fold increase). Something does not compute for me. Here in the UK I can buy Soda/Coke in PET bottles cheaper than I can buy milk in Polyethylene bottles so, at least here in the UK, the price difference doesn't appear to be 12 fold.

Again, only talking about here in the UK, but I can go to one store and buy my beef in a plain white plastic container which is recyclable (but not the film) and the next store it is in a black plastic tray and not recyclable. I am sure there is a reason, but no idea what the reason is.

In all of these discussions, not only on this site, nowhere do I see anyone challenging the cause of the problems: the plastics manufacturers. Never have I seen a representative on TV or in the papers attempting to justify why they do not manufacture more environmentally friendly products, in particular in the packaging industry.


How do you find out what types of plastics your local community curbside recycling will accept? Thanks for educating everyone on the need for recycling. Spread the word: we can change the world!


what type of plastic is used to contain cereals in cereal boxes such as kellogg's etc?


What is a remote control toy's plastic? can it be recycled?


Here's my observation: there are plenty of architects, industrial designers, artists, anything but conservative specialists, so-called environmentalists.

This is my solution. Not many people want to advertise that their company had a non-reusable garbage while the very least group of people wants to go and begging for others' leftovers. It's all about the clash of the ego and pride.


I saw several posts concerning only using one type of plastic for everything. This is not possible for many reasons, the main one being price.

Plastic for a milk jug(Polyethylene) is .$50/lb, plastic for a Coke bottle(PET) is $6.00/lb. A polyethylene Coke bottle would burst all over your leather interior of your car.

One PET milk jug would make mild $6.00/gallon. Some materials have food barrier properties that others don't. Structural properties also vary widely. Some plastics you can paint (ABS), others you cannot(PE and PP).

There are thousands of different types of plastics, each with its own special properties. Most cannot be mixed or then you have trash and a mess. The sugar and flour analogy is a good example.


What kind of plastic is used to make recycled water tanks?


is it the same for Australia, or are there different recyclable plastics?


Some figures show that United States recycles only 10 percent of water bottles.

It seems very low to me, there is so much room for improvement.


Can the medallions on the front of vendors be recycled?


Recycle the plastic hangers by taking them to a dry cleaner. They will reuse them instead of the wire hangers.


i would like to know about recycling of biodegradable and nonbiodegradable plastics.


I recycle everything I can and do composting as well. I get very upset that schools, nursing homes and assisted living homes do not recycle. There is a lot of plastic used in these facilities that are going to the landfills. If you buy children's clothing you always get plastic hangers. There are tons in a bag in my garage I don't know what to do with since places like Goodwill and Salvation Army will not take them for their stores, at least not in our area. Very wasteful!


anon26581 - the article says that recycling two types of plastic would ruin the melt. i guess you can think of it like mixing some flour in a bowl of sugar -- it's going to ruin the sugar for use as sugar.

i don't know that all plastic items could be made out of the same type of plastic. some things require different materials, i think. like i don't know that you could make a good food storage bag out of the same plastic used for plastic bottles, or vice versa.

if the goal is keeping plastics out of landfills, i think mandating recycling is one strong way to go. and in so doing, or even irrespective of mandating it, recycling bins at all business, residences, and public places would be helpful to this end -- i know a lot of areas that don't offer a recycling pick up at all. that's the lowest hanging fruit, i think, in the plastic waste problem.


Can the plastic casing on copper wire be recycled? If so what number are the plastics?


What would be the harm of two or more recycle types were to be recycled together? If congress was to pass a bill making all consumables plastics a law to recycle, could all plastics be made of the same material?


i have a project on How are plastics recycled and is there any biodegradable plastics? can you please send some information on this if you coud do it would have been very useful to me.

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    • Recycled plastic pellets.
      Recycled plastic pellets.
    • Plastic water bottles.
      Plastic water bottles.
    • A plastic box.
      A plastic box.
    • Plastic shampoo bottles are usually in the 2 or HDPE group.
      Plastic shampoo bottles are usually in the 2 or HDPE group.