Plastic Recycling Symbols Overview

A Look at the Different Recycling Numbers and What They Mean

The world of plastics can seem at times like a complete mystery. Not only are there many types of plastics, many are not properly labeled, making recycling solutions difficult to find. But when plastic recycle numbers (codes) are available, learning how to read them will get you much closer to taking care of your trash in an eco-friendly manner. This Ecolife guide to plastic recycling symbols will give you the basics on recognizing the easy-to-recycle from the impossible-to-recycle so that you can make better consumer choices and process your used plastics with ease.



Plastic name



Recycling tips


PETE (polyethylene terephthalate)

Clear, durable, shatter resistant, solvent resistant, heat resistant.

Beverage containers (soda, water, beer), food containers (ketchup, salad dressing, peanut butter, jam), oven film, microwave trays, carpeting, textiles, strapping.

Highly recyclable, accepted by most curbside recycling programs. Often used for containers with a deposit and can be sent to drop-off recycling centers. Learn more.


HDPE (high-density polyethylene)

Solvent resistant, high tensile strength, durable and stiff.

Beverage containers (milk, water, juice), cosmetic and cleaning product containers (shampoo, laundry detergent, all purpose cleaners), cereal box linters, thin film plastic shopping bags, pipe and conduit, wood composites, wire and cable coverings.

Plastic bags and liners are often excluded from curbside recycling programs but can be recycled through supermarket bag recycling programs. Beverage, cleaning product, and cosmetic containers usually accepted through curbside programs. Learn more. 


PVC (polyvinyl chloride)

Oil and grease resistant, chemical resistant, either flexible or rigid, high impact strength, clarity.

Blister packs and clamshells, pipe, siding, window frames, decking, bags for textiles (bedding), food shrink wrap, medical equipment (tubes, blood bags), wire insulation, flooring.

PVC is not generally recycled, nor is it generally made to be recyclable. Precycling PVC is your best bet for reducing this plastic waste. Learn more. 


LDPE (low-density polyethylene)

Oil resistant, chemical resistant, acid and base resistant, tough, flexible, transparent.

Clear plastic bags (dry cleaning, bakery goods, produce, household garbage), food container lids, flexible food containers (squeezable honey), shrink wrap, used as coating in paper milk cartons and paper coffee cups, adhesives, sealants, wire coverings, some toys.

Food containers and milk cartons are recyclable with curbside programs generally. Film plastics are harder to recycle - some curbside programs accept them as well as some grocery store plastic bag recycling programs. Learn more. 


PP (polypropylene)

Chemical resistant, high melting point, either flexible or rigid, low moisture vapor transmission, inert to acids, alkalis, solvents.

Food containers (yogurt, deli foods, margarine, ketchup, syrup), medical containers, bottle caps, carpeting, automotive parts.

Most of these products are highly recyclable through curbside programs, although sometimes bottle caps are not accepted. Learn more. 


PS (polystyrene)

Stiff and either rigid and transparent or foamed and tough but not clear, relatively low melting point, moisture barrier.

Food service items (cups, plates, bowls, takeout containers, meat trays), packing material (furniture, electronics, shipping containers as loose fill), CD and DVD cases and video cartridges, medicine bottles, medical products, toys, electronic housing.

Check with your community recycling program to determine whether polystyrene is accepted for recycling (often it is not). Mail in programs for recycling this type of plastic are available (see our recycling database for listings). Learn more.


Other plastics

Plastics made from a different resin from any of the above, or a combination of more than one; can include bio-based plastics.

Unable to determine unless resin used is known.

Will vary on plastic composition and on local recycling programs. Bio-based plastics are generally accepted by commercial composting facilities. Learn more. 


Drill down for even more information about each type of plastic and how to find recycling facilities for all of your hard-to-recycle products.  Our recycling database will provide you with all of the resources you need to shrink the size of your trash can by feeding your recycling bin instead.


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