We’ve all see it, the little numbers on most plastic.  Have you ever wondered what those numbers mean?  I have, so I thought I would do some research on what they mean and how they affect the ability to recycle that item.  I will list my sources at the end of the article if you want to check out any of them for yourself.



Used for


(polyethylene terephthalate)

·         Soft drink bottles
·         Water bottles
·         Sports drink bottles
·         Salad dressing bottles
·         Vegetable oil bottles

·         Peanut butter jars
·         Pickle jars
·         Jelly jars
·         Prepared food trays
·         Mouthwash bottles

Easy to recycle, accepted by most recycling programs.


(high-density polyethylene)

·         Milk jugs
·         Juice bottles
·         Yogurt tubs
·         Butter tubs
·         Cereal box liners

·         Shampoo bottles
·         Motor oil bottles
·         Bleach/detergent bottles
·         Household cleaner bottles
·         Grocery bags

Recyclable – *plastic grocery bags are not accepted.


PVC or V
(polyvinyl chloride)

·         Clear food packaging
·         Wire/cable insulation
·         Pipes/fittings
·         Siding
·         Flooring

·         Fencing
·         Window frames
·         Shower curtains
·         Lawn chairs
·         Children’s toys

Not accepted through most curbside recycling programs.


(low-density polyethylene)

·         Dry cleaning bags
·         Bread bags
·         Frozen food bags
·         Squeezable bottles
·         Wash bottles

·         Dispensing bottles
·         6 pack rings
·         Various molded                              laboratory equipment




·         Ketchup bottles
·         Most yogurt tubs
·         Syrup bottles
·         Bottle caps
·         Straws

·         Dishware
·         Medicine bottles
·         Some auto parts
·         Pails
·         Packing tape




·         Disposable plates
·         Disposable cutlery
·         Cafeteria trays
·         Meat trays
·         Egg cartons

·         Carry out containers
·         Aspirin bottles
·         CD/video cases
·         Packaging peanuts
·         Other Styrofoam products

Not accepted through most curbside recycling programs.


Other Plastics

·         3/5 gallon water jugs
·         Citrus juice bottles
·         Plastic lumber
·         Headlight lenses
·         Safety glasses

·         Gas containers
·         Bullet proof materials
·         Acrylic, nylon, polycarbonate
·         Polylactic acid (a bioplastic)
·         Combinations of different plastics


You may be asking why this is such an important topic to me.  As someone who has grown up on the water, I’ve watched sadly as the amount of plastic in the oceans has grown.  According to Plos One, there is approximately five TRILLION pieces of plastic, weighing more than 250,000 metric tons currently floating in the ocean today.[ii]  Our global production of plastic grows drastically, in a 10 year span we went from 225 million tons to 311 million tons.  Out of all that created plastic only 7.7 million tons were recycled, globally, in 2013.[iii]  Considering that 80% of the United States has access to plastic recycling, we aren’t doing a very good job. 



 While the above chart says that most programs won’t pick up the plastic bags, that doesn’t mean they aren’t recyclable.  It is just that most recycling facilities don’t have the equipment needed to sort the bags from other recyclables.  It actually costs approximately $4,000 to recycle one ton of plastic bags, and with the recycling industry going through a slump, the most a recycler can hope to get is between $.17 – $.20 per pound which is $340 – $400 per ton.  

Even though most of us know that plastic bags are bad for our environment, we still use them.  Why is this?  Out of the approximately 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags used yearly, around 380 billion is used in the USA.  What does that say about us?  We know there are alternatives and yet most of us don’t bother.  Sure, I’m as guilty as anyone else of forgetting to grab my cloth bags when I go to the grocery, but instead of throwing away the bags, I reuse them.  Until we come together as citizens and businesses to stop using so many throw away products, we aren’t going to be able to end the waste and pollution.

So, I’m going to ask you, how is your business helping eliminate plastic waste?  Are you recycling?  Are you eliminating single use plastics?  I really want to know.


Do you want more information on this topic?



[ii] https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111913
[iii] https://www.thebalancesmb.com/plastic-recycling-facts-and-figures-2877886