What Do Those Recycling Symbols Mean, and Which Are Potentially Harmful?

I’m sure at one point you’ve noticed the three arrow triangle with a number in the middle on many of the plastic containers around your home, and wondered what in the heck do they mean.  I’ve found and reprinted below, an article from “The Daily Green” a consumer’s guide from GoodHousekeeping.com.  Particularly important to note are the ones that are suspected for releasing harmful toxins such as BPAs as they come into contact with food over time or when heated.  Here is a breakdown of what those symbols mean, and more importantly, a descriptive guide to help remember to avoid types 3, 6 and 7!

Number 1 Plastics PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate) Found in: Soft drink, water and beer bottles; mouthwash bottles;  peanut butter containers; salad dressing and vegetable oil containers; ovenable  food trays. Recycling: Picked up through most curbside recycling  programs. Recycled into: Polar fleece, fiber, tote bags, furniture,  carpet, paneling, straps, (occasionally) new containers

PET plastic is the most common for single-use bottled beverages, because it  is inexpensive, lightweight and easy to recycle. It poses low risk of leaching  breakdown products. Recycling rates remain relatively low (around 20%), though  the material is in high demand by remanufacturers.

Number 2 Plastics HDPE (high density polyethylene) Found in: Milk jugs, juice  bottles; bleach, detergent and household cleaner bottles; shampoo bottles; some  trash and shopping bags; motor oil bottles; butter and yogurt tubs; cereal box  liners Recycling: Picked up through most curbside recycling programs,  although some allow only those containers with necks. Recycled into:   Laundry detergent bottles, oil bottles, pens, recycling containers, floor tile,  drainage pipe, lumber, benches, doghouses, picnic tables, fencing

HDPE is a versatile plastic with many uses, especially for packaging. It  carries low risk of leaching and is readily recyclable into many  goods.

Number 3 Plastics V (Vinyl) or PVC Found in: Window  cleaner and detergent bottles, shampoo bottles, cooking oil bottles, clear food  packaging, wire jacketing, medical equipment, siding, windows,  piping Recycling:  Rarely recycled; accepted by some plastic lumber  makers. Recycled into: Decks, paneling, mudflaps, roadway gutters,  flooring, cables, speed bumps, mats, etc.

PVC is tough and weathers well, so it is commonly used for piping, siding and  similar applications. PVC contains chlorine, so its manufacture can release  highly dangerous dioxins.  Harvard-educated Dr. Leo Trasande of the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine advises  consumers to avoid number 3 plastics for food and drinks. (If you’re unsure,  look for the little symbol that should be printed on the container. Some brands  have left the symbols off, which is a major problem.)

Why? Number 3 plastics may release toxic breakdown products (including  pthalates) into food and drinks.  The risk is highest when containers start wearing out, are put through the  dishwasher or when they are heated (including microwaved).

Number 4 Plastics LDPE (low density polyethylene) Found in: Squeezable bottles;  bread, frozen food, dry cleaning and shopping bags; tote bags; clothing;  furniture; carpet Recycling: LDPE is not often recycled through  curbside programs, but some communities will accept it. Plastic shopping bags  can be returned to many stores for recycling. Recycled into: Trash can  liners and cans, compost bins, shipping envelopes, paneling, lumber, landscaping  ties, floor tile

LDPE is a flexible plastic with many applications. Historically it 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) Found in: Some  yogurt containers, syrup bottles, ketchup bottles, caps, straws, medicine  bottles Recycling: Number 5 plastics can be recycled through some  curbside programs. Recycled into: Signal lights, battery cables,  brooms, brushes, auto battery cases, ice scrapers, landscape borders, bicycle  racks, rakes, bins, pallets, trays

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) Found in:   Disposable  plates and cups, meat trays, egg cartons, carry-out containers, aspirin bottles,  compact disc cases Recycling:  The material was long on environmentalists’  hit lists for dispersing widely across the landscape, and for being notoriously  difficult to recycle. Most places still don’t accept it, though it is gradually  gaining traction.  Number 6 plastics can be recycled  through some curbside programs. Recycled into: Insulation, light  switch plates, egg cartons, vents, rulers, foam packing, carry-out  containers

Number 6 plastics (polystyrene) are made into soft Styrofoam-style cups as  well as rigid foams and hard plastic products, so remember to look for those  little numbers in the arrows (don’t feel bad if you need a magnifying glass). Avoid using them as much as possible.

Why? Number 6 plastics can release potentially toxic breakdown  products (including styrene). Evidence suggests polystyrene can leach potential toxins into foods. Get this: particularly when heated! That insulated  coffee cup — the one that ‘knows’ when to keep your drink warm — doesn’t seem  so smart anymore does it?

Number 7 Plastics Miscellaneous Found in: Three- and  five-gallon water bottles, ‘bullet-proof’ materials, sunglasses, DVDs, iPod and  computer cases, signs and displays, certain food containers, nylon Recycling:   Number 7 plastics have traditionally not been recycled,  though some curbside programs now take them. Recycled into: Plastic  lumber, custom-made products

A wide range of plastic resins that don’t fit into the other six categories  are lumped into number 7. Some are quite safe, but the ones to worry about are  the hard polycarbonate varieties, as found in various drinking containers (like  Nalgene bottles) and rigid plastic baby bottles.

Why? Studies have shown polycarbonate can leach bisphenol A (BPA), a  potential hormone disruptor, into liquids. According to Trasande, no level of  bisphenol A (BPA) exposure is known to be truly safe, and in August a government panel  expressed ‘some concern’ that the ingredient causes neural and behavioral  problems in children.

NOTE: Not long after I posted this on my blog, my friend Carly Alyssa Thorne, who is a holistic Life Coach with a medical background shared this evidence on BPA linked with obesity in kids and teens.  http://healthland.time.com/2012/09/18/bpa-linked-with-obesity-in-kids-and-teens/ 



One Response

  1. […] What Do Those Recycling Symbols Mean, and Which Are Potentially Harmful? (gonzogourmands.com) […]

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