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Flip over a plastic container, and you’ll likely find the wellknown triangle recycling logo. Contrary to popular belief, its presence doesn’t guarantee the product is reusable or recyclable. It all depends on the number, from one to seven, inside the arrows.

By Susan Nerberg

1 PETE Polyethylene terephthalate is the clear, hard plastic used for water bottles and other food containers. It’s intended to be used only once, then recycled. Most recycling facilities will accept it, crushing it into flakes used to make polyester fibre for fleece. The longterm fragmenting of the plastic could leach chemicals, thus the importance of not reusing.

2 HDPE High-density polyethylene is a resilient material used for milk jugs, yogurt containers, shampoo bottles and plastic “lumber.” It’s highly recyclable, accepted by most recycling facilities and reusable, being one of the safest plastics.

3 PVC Polyvinyl chloride is soft and flexible, and you’ll find it in everything from cling wrap to teething rings. Many municipalities don’t recycle PVC. It also contains suspected carcinogens.

4 LDPE Low-density polyethylene is the soft plastic used for bread and shopping bags. With no known health risks, it can be reused. It’s recyclable but not often accepted by recycling programs.

5 PP Tough and lightweight, polypropylene is heat-resistant and also serves as a barrier against moisture. It’s used in disposable diapers, medicine bottles and straws. It can safely be reused, and many municipalities take it for recycling.

6 PS Polystyrene, a.k.a. Styrofoam, is found in takeout food containers. It is generally not accepted by recycling programs and contains the known carcinogen styrene.

7 A catch-all for other plastics, number 7 usually refers to polycarbonate which is used for sunglasses, and car parts. It can contain bisphenol A (BPA), a known hormone disruptor, which has been banned from use in sippy cups and baby bottles. This number also includes bioplastics and biodegradable,compostable polymers, indicated with the acronym PLA (polylactic acid).

DID YOU KNOW? What can be recycled varies from municipality to municipality depending on facilities and machinery. A plastic that is recycled in Montreal isn’t necessarily recycled in Toronto. To find out what can go in your blue bin, check with your town or city.

This story first appeared in The Observer‘s April 2018 edition with the title “Recycling by the numbers.”