Chris Malone

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Recycling Symbols Decoded

Who would have though you needed a study guide on recycling!  But you really do need some guidance in decoding those those triangle symbols with numbers.  So consider this your bible of recycling plastics, paper, glass and metals.  Here are what the numbers and symbols mean:
-Chris Malone

Plastics
The recycling symbols for plastics are divided into seven categories. Generally, the higher the number, the more difficult it is for the material to be recycled. However, just because the product has a number on it doesn’t necessarily mean it can be recycled, nor that it’s eco-friendly. In fact, some elements of plastics — such as bisphenol-A, polystyrene and polyvinyl chloride — have been shown to have harmful effects on health and the environment.
 
1. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
Common products: Single-use plastic water bottles, soft-drink bottles
Recyclability: Widely accepted
File:Plastic-recyc-01.svg
 
2. High-density polyethylene (PE-HD)
Common products: Some retail plastic bags, some yogurt containers
Recyclability: Widely accepted
File:Plastic-recyc-02.svg
 
3. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
Common products: Toys, some food containers/wraps, pipe
Recyclability: Limited
File:Plastic-recyc-03.svg
 
4. Low-density polyethylene (PE-LD)
Common products: Thin plastic bags, some plastic containers (e.g., soap dispensers)
Recyclability: Can be recycled, but check to make sure it’s accepted locally.
File:Plastic-recyc-04.svg
 
5. Polypropylene (PP)
Common products: Straws, soft-drink cups, some food containers
Recyclability: Can be recycled, but check to make sure it’s accepted locally.
File:Plastic-recyc-05.svg
 
6. Polystyrene (PS)
Common products: Styrofoam containers and cups
Recyclability: Sometimes accepted, but low demand for recycled Styrofoam has limited its acceptance.
File:Plastic-recyc-06.svg
 
7. Other
Includes plastics not included in the previous six categories, including BPA, polycarbonate and bio-based plastics.
Common products: Water bottles, food containers
Recyclability: Generally not recyclable, but bio-based plastics can sometimes be composted.
File:Plastic-recyc-07.svg
 
 
Paper
Most paper and cardboard products can be recycled. However, there are a few recycling exceptions, including paper towels, napkins and plastic-coated boxes. If a paper product can be recycled, it may or may not have one of the following symbols:
 
20 PAP: Cardboard 
File:Recycling-Code-20.svg
 
21 PAP: Mixed paper (often found in magazines, mail)
File:Recycling-Code-21.svg
 
22 PAP: Paper (letter/printer paper, etc.)
File:Recycling-Code-22.svg
 
 
Glass
Most commonly used glass products (e.g., jars and beverage containers) can be recycled, but for other items containing glass (e.g., electronics), check to see what’s accepted locally. Alternatively, reuse glass containers.
 
70 GL: Mixed glass
File:Recycling-Code-70.svg
 
 
71 GL: Clear glass
File:Recycling-Code-71.svg
 
 
72 GL: Green glass
File:Recycling-Code-72.svg
 
 
Metals
Aluminum beverage cans are widely recycled. However, for other metal items, check to see what is accepted locally.
 
40 FE: Steel
File:Recycling-Code-40.svg
 
 
41 ALU: Aluminum
File:41 ALU Recycling Code.svg or  41-ALU
 
 
When recycling isn’t eco-friendly
Recycling may always seem like a good idea, but the reality is that throwing certain items into the recycle bin will likely do more harm than good. When disposed of improperly, batteries, electronics and other materials can be hazardous to the environment and human health.
 
Here are a few symbols that indicate an item should never be tossed into the recycle bin (or the trash):
 
Radioactive
 
Thumbnail for version as of 19:17, 27 October 2012
 
Biohazard
 
Thumbnail for version as of 04:09, 24 April 2011
 
Flammable
 
Toxic/poisonous
Thumbnail for version as of 20:52, 15 January 2006
 
 
Keep in mind that many items, such as batteries and electronics, may not contain any of these symbols, but they should never be thrown away or recycled. Instead, check with your local sanitation department to see how hazardous waste should be disposed of in your area.
 
Recyclable vs. Recycled
The “three chasing arrows” icon is probably the most well-recognized recycling symbol. But just because a product has the universal recycling symbol on it doesn’t necessarily mean you should toss it in the recycle bin.
 
 
Some products feature the recycling symbol to denote that they are made from recycled content, and they can’t necessarily be recycled again. For instance, according to the EPA, paper can only be recycled five to seven times before it begins to degrade. 
 
It is also important to distinguish between pre-consumer recycled content, which is made from manufacturer waste and hasn’t yet made it to the consumer, and post-consumer recycled content, which has been used, disposed of, and made into something else. If the product doesn’t say it was made from post-consumer recycled content, it probably wasn’t.
 
Compostable
Although recyclable products aren’t necessarily compostable (and vice versa), more items may be compostable than you think. In fact, it is preferable to compost biodegradable plastic, because it may not degrade properly in oxygen-deprived landfills.
 
 
The symbol above is often used to mark products certified as compostable by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI). (Other symbols may be used to indicate compostability, especially outside the U.S.) But even if a product doesn’t have a symbol, it might still be compostable, so check BPI’s list of certified compostable products.
 
These guidelines are intended to be a starting point. When in doubt about whether to recycle, reuse or compost a particular item, be sure to contact your local sanitation department or visit Earth911.com for more information on what products can be recycled, and how to recycle them, in your area.

 


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03/05/2013 5:23AM
Recycling Symbols Decoded
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