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Recycling bin with plastic bottlesPlastics recycling codes provide valuable information

Tammy Roberts, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Barton County, University of Missouri Extension


Most plastic containers have a recycling number imprinted on the bottom. Although many people know about the numbers, they don’t know what the numbers mean. Recycling codes on the bottom of plastic containers can be any number between 1 and 7. The numbers indicate the type of plastic in the container. Here’s how it breaks down:


1 This is polyethylene terephthalate (called PET or PETE). This is often disposable water and soda bottles. It is generally safe, but is porous so bacteria and flavors can accumulate — don’t re-use these containers.


2 High density polyethylene (HDPE) is considered safe and has low risk of leaching chemicals. Milk jugs, juice bottles, detergent and shampoo bottles are made of this.


3 Polyvinyl chloride (V or PVC) is one to use caution with — it has phthalates, which are softening chemicals that can interfere with hormonal development. PVC is used to make food wraps, bottles for cooking oil and plumbing pipes. There are recommendations to minimize the use of this type of plastic around food. The risk is highest when containers start wearing out and are heated.


4 Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) is not considered a risk. It is used to make cling wrap, grocery bags and sandwich bags.


5 Polypropylene (PP) is used to make yogurt containers and water bottles with a cloudy finish, medicine bottles and straws — it is considered safe.


6 Polystyrene (PS) or Styrofoam is used to make disposable containers like plates and cups. There is evidence that this type of plastic leaches potentially toxic chemicals. It is important to avoid heating anything in these containers.


7 This is all plastics invented after 1987. It includes polycarbonate, which includes bisphenol A or BPA. Scientists believe BPA can act like the hormone estrogen. In animal studies, estrogen has been linked to breast, prostate and other reproductive system problems, as well as some cancers. Examples of some things made under this category include baby bottles, some reusable water bottles and food containers that resist staining. It is important to note that not all plastics that have the number 7 contain BPA, but the number 7 indicates that it could.


Plastics with a recycling code of 3, 6 or 7 should be used with caution, especially with food or drinks. Be especially cautious with heat on plastics labeled with recycling code numbers 3 and 6.


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Last update: Monday, May 16, 2011