What do recycling numbers mean on plastic products?

The symbol codes used on plastic products was designed by The Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) in 1988 to allow recyclers to differentiate different types of plastics and to provide a uniform convention that manufacturers could implement nationwide.  Since recyclers target post-consumer plastics, the SPI code is most commonly found on household packaging materials.

SPI and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have established guidelines for use of the code:

  • used on bottles and rigid containers in compliance with laws in 39 states.
  • identifies resin (type of plastic) content only.
  • must be as inconspicuous as possible so the consumer's purchasing decision is not influenced.
  • must not be modified in any way.
  • no claims of recyclability or the word 'recyclable' near the code symbol.
  • molded or imprinted on all 8 ounce to 5 gallon containers that can accept the 1/2" minimum size symbol.
  • must appear on the container bottom as close to the center as possible.

The following is a list of the SPI symbols and the polymers that they represent, along with a short description of uses for that polymer:

Polyethylene Terephthalate: Soda bottles, water bottles, vinegar bottles, medicine containers, backing for photography film.
High-density Polyethylene: Containers for:  laundry/dish detergent, fabric softeners, bleach, milk, shampoo, conditioner, motor oil. Newer bullet proof vests, various toys.


Low-density Polyethylene:  Wrapping films, grocery bags, sandwich bags.
Polypropylene:  Tupperware®, syrup bottles, yogurt tubs, diapers, outdoor carpet.
Polystyrene:  Coffee cups, disposable cutlery and cups (clear and colored), bakery shells, meat trays, "cheap" hubcaps, packing peanuts, styrofoam insulation.
Products labeled as "other" are made of any combination of 1-6 or another, less commonly used plastic.
Article Title:
What do recycling numbers mean on plastic products?
Article Summary:
Plastic material code symbols and their meanings
Article Date:
7/29/2003
Article ID:
638
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