Do You Know What Plastic Recycling Symbols Mean?

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April 19, 2008 | 130,260 views

The Daily Green offers this handy guide on the various types of plastic:

Number 1 Plastics -- PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate)
It poses low risk of leaching breakdown products. Recycling rates remain relatively low (around 20 percent), though the material is in high demand by remanufacturers.

Number 2 Plastics -- HDPE (high density polyethylene)
HDPE carries low risk of leaching and is readily recyclable into many goods.

Number 3 Plastics -- V (Vinyl) or PVC
PVC contains chlorine, so its manufacture can release highly dangerous dioxins. If you must cook with PVC, don‘t let the plastic touch food. Never burn PVC, because it releases toxins.

Number 4 Plastics -- LDPE (low density polyethylene)
Historically, LDPE has not been accepted through most American curbside recycling programs, but more and more communities are starting to accept it.

Number 5 Plastics -- PP (polypropylene)
Polypropylene has a high melting point, and so is often chosen for containers that must accept hot liquid. It is gradually becoming more accepted by recyclers.

Number 6 Plastics -- PS (polystyrene)
Polystyrene can be made into rigid or foam products -- in the latter case it is popularly known as the trademark Styrofoam. Evidence suggests polystyrene can leach potential toxins into foods. The material was long on environmentalists‘ hit lists for dispersing widely across the landscape, and for being notoriously difficult to recycle.

Number 7 Plastics -- Miscellaneous
A wide variety of plastic resins that don‘t fit into the previous categories are lumped into number 7. A few are even made from plants (polyactide) and are compostable. Polycarbonate is number 7, and is the hard plastic that has parents worried these days, after studies have shown it can leach potential hormone disruptors. If America were going to be characterized by any one material, it would have to be plastic. It’s in our food packaging, our clothing, our cars, our toys, our waterways, our streets, and, yes, it's even in you.

By way of the food chain, and also drinking water and using plastic items in your everyday life, you are ingesting plastics every day, in the form of the following chemicals:
There is even a plastic “stew,” twice the size of Texas, that has formed in the Pacific Ocean. Scientists have dubbed the mass of floating plastic trash the "Eastern Garbage Patch," and its volume is growing at an alarming pace. Even more shocking: when researchers tested the water of the Pacific Ocean, they found it contained six times as much plastic as plankton, by weight!

What is the result of mankind breathing, eating, drinking and absorbing all of this plastic? Obesity, declining fertility rates and other reproductive problems, cancer and more.

Reducing Your Use of Plastics

No matter what recycling symbol is on the bottom of your plastic water bottle or plate, I can confidently say that you’re better off using an inert, reusable material like glass or ceramic instead. This is because all plastic, particularly if you use it with hot beverages or foods, or if it’s scratched or worn out, can leach chemicals into your foods and drinks.

The worst of the plastics appear to be those that are marked with the recycling label No. 7, as these varieties may contain BPA.

And this is not even taking into account the environmental impacts of plastics, which kill more than 1 million seabirds, 100,000 marine mammals, and even more fish in the North Pacific alone, every year.

Well, it may seem like plastics are an indispensable part of your life, but I think we all have room, for our own health and the health of our planet, to reduce our use, and here’s how:

1. Boycott plastic shopping bags. Use reusable canvas or cloth varieties instead. (This also applies to the plastic produce bags in the grocery store.)

2. Don’t buy bottled water. Filter your own using a reverse-osmosis filter, and put it in a glass bottle. If you’re concerned about it breaking, some companies now offer silicone sleeves that go on the outside to protect the bottle.

3. Avoid using plastic cups, utensils, dishware and food storage containers. This includes Nalgene bottles, which many mistakenly believe are safe.

4. Buy toys made of natural fabrics instead of plastic.

5. Look for products that use minimal packaging, or buy in bulk.

6. Give up plastic wrap (and never use it to cover your food while it’s heating).

7. Stop buying canned foods and drinks (the can linings contain plastic chemicals).

8. Parents, use cloth diapers instead of plastic ones.

9. Look for non-plastic home items, like cloth shower curtains and wooden spoons instead of plastic ones.

[+]Sources and References [-]Sources and References