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Ever Wonder About Plastic Recycling?

All the Halloween talk about things that rise from dead got me wondering about recycling. Recycling plastics saves energy and resources, but can be easier said than done. The various types of plastics can have similar appearances, densities and other material properties, so it is difficult to sort them out. To help recycling companies with this problem, the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. developed a seven number resin identification coding system back in 1988. Although I often find the numbers hard to see, they are supposed to show what the plastic was made from.

The first six numbers are related to the type of resin used to make the plastic and the seventh is a leftover category. I don’t know if they decided on seven because of the limits of human memory or because of some superstition. What gets recycled is often more about economics than technology. Currently in Vancouver, plastics with the numbers 1, 2, 4, 5 can be recycled.


1 Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE), also known as polyester, is commonly used to make bottles for soft drinks. You pay an extra fee when you buy bottled drinks and you get money back if you take the containers to a depot at a supermarket or at Encorp. Some people like to reuse them, but they are prone to break down and become a breeding ground for bacteria and they can leach antimony over time—which makes me wonder about using them in my emergency supplies kit.

My salad dressing bottle is a 1.

2 High density polyethylene (HDPE) is used in milk containers, yogurt tubs and cereal box liners. You don't pay a fee for milk jugs, so you don't get any money back when you recycle them. You pay a fee for soft drinks in these containers, so you get money back at a depot or supermarket.

My contact lens fluid bottle is a 2.

4 Low density polyethylene (LDPE) is used in shopping bags, squeezable bottles and baby bottles. Don't put plastic bags in recycling! However, some stores accept them.

The blue plastic neti pot I use to flush my nose is a 4.

5 Polypropylene (PP) is used in some yogurt containers, ketchup bottles, straws and medicine bottles.

My skin moisturizer jar is a 5.


3 Polyvinyl chloride (V or PVC) is used in lots of things but not so much in the food industry, because of its toxicity.

6 Polystyrene (PS) is used in all kinds of packaging, including egg cartons and disposable cups, but it is not recyclable.

7 Other includes everything else. The strange thing about this category is that in includes some plastics made from vegetables that can be recycled, as well as some plastics that can leach hormone disruptors.

Reducing and reusing should come before recycling. The toxicity of plastics is a growing concern. My current reality is that I have a lot of stuff in my blue box. After reading up on these resin ID numbers, I’ve started trying to guess which number a given plastic is made from as a small step toward increasing my awareness of my waste.

What is your take on recycling?