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March Green Guide


presented by Missouri Organic

Behind the numbers: #1-7 Plastics 

For many of us, mystery still surrounds the numbers inside the chasing arrows on the bottom of the plastic bottles, containers and packaging. We’ve dutifully been trained to check the number on the bottom of our plastic bottles and containers. But what do those numbers inside the chasing arrows really mean? And why do some recyclers accept some of the numbers, but not all of them?

Plastic Recycling Chart

The numbers one through seven appear on nearly all plastic products to indicate the type of plastic polymer used to make the item. The 1988, Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) introduced the resin identification coding system that is now used internationally today. The codes are designed to allow consumers and recyclers to easily identify the type of plastic polymer. These codes allow plastics recyclers to keep different plastics separate. Keeping the different types of plastics separate is important because plastics of different numbers cannot be reprocessed together by the plastics industry. One wrong number can ruin the mix when plastics are melted down to be reused. The table, found here and pictured right, provided by the American Chemistry Council, defines each type of resin by their code, common uses, benefits, and the types of products made with recycled content.

However, just because there is a recycling symbol with a number on a product, does not mean all recycling centers will accept it. Your best option for recycling plastics at home is to inquire at your local facility and follow the instructions of your local waste haulers and recyclers. Typically #1-2 plastics are the most recycled because of the ease of reprocessing, while #3-7 plastics are the most difficult. Without an economical wall to recycle these plastics they may still end up in area landfills, so avoiding them is the first step to preventing plastic trash.

In 2014, the Waddell and Reed Kansas City Marathon and Win for KC Women’s Triathlon are working to minimize these hard to recycle plastics on race day. Participants and spectators are encouraged to bring reusable containers and avoid disposable #3-7 plastics, except for compostable #7 indicated by additional labeling. The #7 compostable plastics are specially designed using plant based materials to rapidly decompose in commercial composting facilities like Missouri Organic Recycling.