Recycling By Numbers - What The Numbers Mean

What Plastic Codes Mean

There's a lot of confusion or lack of knowledge about what the numbers on different plastics mean. Often people think the chasing arrow symbol ♻️ means that a product is recyclable, whereas it is simply a way to identify what kind of plastic a product is made of. However, knowing your numbers can help you to recycle better so we've identified the most common applications and collections of the different plastic numbers below. As with all recycling, it's heavily localised, use this as a guide and ask your waste provider if you have any specific questions.

Recycling codes 01

#1 PET - Polyethylene Terephthalate

Number 1 plastics are fully and easily recyclable meaning they are accepted in almost all curbside recycling programs. Traditionally recycled PET had been made into products such as carpet or polyester fabric, however recycling facilities have developed quickly and there are facilities that are recycling PET plastics back into new RPET packaging.

This is a massive development for the circular economy, meaning these resources can stay in use for their intended purpose indefinitely if treated correctly. This makes PET + RPET products preferable to most other plastic materials, particularly for food packaging.

Flight plastics are producing food safe RPET packaging in New Zealand and Australia, as well as extruding PET for manufacturing the UK. Further, Eco Plastics in the UK are working with plastic bottle giant Coca Cola to produce RPET bottles. Making PET recycling increasingly valuable and worthwhile.

#2 HDPE - High-density Polyethylene

HDPE is a light but durable plastic that has a lot of household applications such as milk bottles, shampoo and conditioner containers etc. Along with PET, it’s accepted in almost all curbside recycling programs. As HDPE is such a commonly used plastic it has many applications after recycling such as toys, rope, piping and in some facilities new HDPE containers.

HDPE, like many plastics, are made from fossil fuels so manufacturing from recycled HDPE saves not only resources but a significant amount of energy, as well as reducing costs.

HDPE A lot of house hold cleaning and personal care items are made from HDPE and can be recycled after you rinse them.

#3 PVC - PVC Polyvinyl Chloride

PVC plastic is commonly used in construction as it is not impacted by sunlight, water and other harsh weather conditions. It is commonly used for vinyl flooring, window frames and pipes. There's an increase in organisations that’ll recycle it from industrial sources however there’s less of a market for recycled PVC and some councils won’t collect in curbside collections.

Recycling tip: If a product has a small paper label you do not need to remove this before recycling

#4 LDPE - Low-Density Polyethylene

LDPE is used to create most soft plastic products - from plastic shopping bags to cling wrap.

Due to the lightweight and generally single-use applications of LDPE products it continues to receive a lot of public attention. Given this, most governments have eliminated single-use grocery bags and soft plastic recycling schemes are becoming more common. In New Zealand, the plastic bag ban came into effect on the 1st of July.

It’s not accepted curbside recycling schemes as it is difficult to sort from other materials. Making source separation particularly important for soft plastics, most soft plastic recycling schemes require you to drop it off at a dedicated collection point. Try and avoid soft plastic by filling glass jars at your local refill store from grains to dried fruit and using reusable produce bags.

#5 PP - Polypropylene

PP is growing in popularity due to its ability to be used in a wide variety of manufacturing techniques. It can be used for products from straws, piping, ice cream containers, pill bottles and of course Method bins.

Being a versatile, durable, easily recyclable and increasingly common plastic, curbside collections for PP products are increasing. Common PP items such as margarine tubs and ice cream containers have been accepted for some time now.

If you missed the news - the black components of Method bins are made from at least 50% recycled materials. We are working to increase this to 100% when the infrastructure and supply are ratified. You can find out more here.

#6 PS - Polystyrene or EPS - Expanded Polystyrene

PS is often referred to by the brand name Styrofoam. It’s often used for food packaging such as burger clamshells, packaging materials and ‘packing peanuts’. Polystyrene can be hard to identify as it comes in two forms. The hard, compressed PS that is often used in food packaging and expanded polystyrene (EPS) which is the lighter “puffed’ version.

Polystyrene isn’t easily recycled so it’s not collected in curbside recycling. Recycled EPS has been found to be useful to manufacture insulation and other industrial applications however they can’t be recycled for their original purpose.

Given this, it’s a particularly problematic form of plastic and we encourage you to seek out alternatives such as PET food packaging and use paper-based packaging in place of polystyrene peanuts. We don’t often purchase packaging for shipping out of our office, we reuse what we receive where possible.

Polystyrene 01 Rigid Polystyrene on the left, and Expanded Polystyrene on the right

#7 ‘Other’

Number 7 plastics are the miscellaneous section of the recycling world meaning there is no way to generalise this group. Except to say they’re likely not recyclable through curbside collections.

Poly Lactic Acid (PLA) plastics, a common form of bioplastics, are a relatively new form of packaging that has entered as a #7 plastic. They’re commercially compostable plastics made from natural materials such as corn starch, sugarcane or tapioca.

There are common misconceptions around bioplastics and the benefits of using them. Bioplastics aren’t recyclable - they’re designed to break down in commercial composting facilities under specific conditions. This process doesn’t occur in a landfill or if littered. As with all forms of recycling/organics check with your waste provider about what they accept in their organics collection, as not all commercial composting facilities are able to process bioplastics.

Top tip: As always, your best bet is to purchase a reusable container for your coffee, lunch or smoothie most food outlets are happy to fill them and avoid single-use plastic altogether

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