Which Plastics Are Recyclable By Number?

Plastics Recycling Chart

April 23, 2018

This plastics identification chart should make recycling and sorting your plastic a little easier. It also shows some of the common plastic items in a home that are likely to leak chemicals into our food and bodies, so that you know which plastics are safe and which to avoid.  Please feel free to print and share.

If you look at the number inside the triangle on your plastic, it will range from one to seven. This will tell you both the type of plastic used and which type is recyclable or even reusable. Many plastic-based products cannot break down and cannot be recycled.

Most plastic that displays a one or a two number is recyclable (though you need to check with your area’s recycling provider). But plastic that displays a three or a five often isn’t recyclable. A three indicates that the water bottle has been made from polyvinyl chloride, a five means that it’s been made of polypropylene, two materials that are not accepted by most public recycling centers.

Plastics Identification and Recycling Chart

Here are the seven standard classifications for plastics, and the recycling and reuse information for each type. See more information below this chart.


Here’s more information about the different types of plastics.

#1: PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)

Water bottles and plastic soda bottles are the most common containers made out of PET. It’s fine to recycle.

However, avoid reusing. Why not reuse? PET is meant for single-use applications; repeated use increases the risk of leaching and bacterial growth. And it’s very difficult to clean or remove harmful chemicals. PET may leach carcinogens.

#2: HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene)

Most milk jugs, detergent containers, and oil bottles are made from HDPE. It’s a very common plastic and one of the safest to use. It’s also fully recyclable.

#3: PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)

PVC is used for a lot of plastic food wrapping because it’s soft and flexible. Most consumer recyclers will not take PVC products. Also, avoid reusing PVC products, especially when it comes to food or for children’s use. They contain toxins which leach throughout its entire life cycle.

#4: LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene)

LDPE is usually what plastic bags are made from. You’ll also find LDPE in shrink wraps, dry cleaner garment bags, and other items.

Though most plastic bags are not recyclable, some companies and recycling centers have found alternatives or are investigating how to recycle plastic bags given their harmfulness to the environment.

LDPE is reusable and safe to repurpose.

#5: PP (Polypropylene)

Polypropylene plastic is used in those margarine and yogurt containers, potato chip bags, cereal bags, and much more. 

Polypropylene is recyclable though many recyclers still don’t accept it; this should change in time. PP is considered safe for reuse.

#6: PS (Polystyrene)

Avoid polystyrene as best possible. It’s used for disposable styrofoam drinking cups, take-out containers, packing peanuts, and more.

Polystyrene is not generally recyclable and accounts for about 35% of US landfill material. Because it breaks apart so easily, it’s also found ingested by marine animals and littering our beaches.

Also, avoid reusing! Chemicals present in polystyrene have been linked with human health and reproductive system dysfunction. Polystyrene may leach styrene, a possible human carcinogen, into food products (especially when heated in a microwave!).

#7: Polycarbonate, BPA, and Other Plastics

Assume that nothing with the #7 number can be recycled or reused. BPA can leak chemicals. It’s an xenoestrogen, a known endocrine disruptor.

Interested in recycling? See some ideas on recycling and reusing in the home!

Reader Comments

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Is the #3 plastics (pvc) the only one that contains pvc? If not, which other plastics contain pvc? I’m asking because I need a temporary storage for coins and pvc will damage them…

Do *NOT* rely on this - call your local municipality!

Every city, county and state has its own rules about what can and cannot be recycled; different systems can handle different plastics, and governments may face higher net recycling costs for some plastics than for others, since they are not all equally in demand in the commercial resale market. In central NC, for instance, #2, 4, and 5 are all routinely recycled, but #1, 3, 6 and 7 are not - completely different rules than the ones in the third paragraph of this article. There's also the question of what to do with the lids and bottle caps. Bottom line: ASK someone in your city or county government who handles solid waste removal.

Microwaveable Trays

After reading about the plastic ratings on plastic bottles, containers, etc. my ? Is: most microwave trays R white or black n R usually Rated a 5 on white n a 7 on black,
R toxic chemicals leaking into the food n is it worse if U microwave the food?

Plastic containers like Tupperware, etc.

Visiting a friend recently I noticed her large collection of plastic containers, many decades old. What is the rule for usage after certain dates and what codes (if they exist!) should be discarded.

Geriatric Containers

The Editors's picture

Hi, Sue: This really depends on the exact types of plastics and quality of manufacturing, but there is no reason that most plastic containers can’t be used for decades (and many, many are). Thanks for asking!

how are tubes recycled? For

how are tubes recycled? For example, toothpaste tubes and tubes that contain facial cleansers... they don't always have a number/triangle on them. can they be recycled?

You should try to empty the

The Editors's picture

You should try to empty the containers as much as possible before putting them in a recycle bin. If the item is not recyclable, it will be discarded at the recycle center.

I work for a production

I work for a production company and we would like to use the Numbered Household Plastics Chart you have on your website on our television show. Could we get permission to do that?

Hi Bryant, Thanks for

The Editors's picture

Hi Bryant, Thanks for writing. Please contact Ginger at gingerv@yankeepub.com regarding this request. Thanks, the OFA staff