← Back to Articles

What do the plastic recycling numbers mean?

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.
  • Must identify the resin (type of plastic) content only.
  • Must be as inconspicuous as possible so the consumer's purchasing decision is not influenced.
  • Must be molded or imprinted on all 8 oz. to 5 gal. containers that can accept the 1/2" minimum size symbol.
  • Must appear on the container bottom as close to the center as possible.
  • Must not be modified in any way.
  • Must not make claims of recyclability or include the word 'recyclable' near the symbol.

The following list contains SPI symbols and the polymers that they represent, along with common uses for that polymer:

Recycling Symbol (1) Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
Soda bottles, water bottles, vinegar bottles, medicine containers, backing for photography film.
Recycling Symbol (2) High-density polyethylene (HDPE)
Containers for laundry/dish detergent, fabric softeners, bleach, milk, shampoo, conditioner, motor oil. Newer bullet proof vests, various toys.
Recycling Symbol (3) Vinyl or polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
Shampoo bottles, cooking oil bottles, blister packaging, wire jacketing, siding, windows, piping.
Recycling Symbol (4) Low-density polyethylene (LDPE)
Wrapping films, grocery bags, sandwich bags.
Recycling Symbol (5) Polypropylene (PP)
Tupperware®, syrup bottles, yogurt tubs, diapers, outdoor carpet.
Recycling Symbol (6) Polystyrene (PS)
Coffee cups, disposable cutlery and cups (clear and colored), bakery shells, meat trays, "cheap" hubcaps, packing peanuts, styrofoam insulation.
Recycling Symbol (7) Other
Products labeled as "other" are made of any combination of 1-6 or other, less commonly used plastics.
Title: What do the plastic recycling numbers mean?
Description: Plastic material code symbols and their meanings
Published: 7/29/2003
Last Edited: 12/28/2022
34 users found this article useful. Was this article useful to you?

Information disclaimer:

The information contained in this article is for general information purposes only. The information is provided by United States Plastic Corp. and while we endeavor to keep the information up to date and correct, we make no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, accuracy, reliability, suitability or availability with respect to the website or the information, products, services, or related graphics contained on the website for any purpose. Any reliance you place on such information is therefore strictly at your own risk.

In no event will we be liable for any loss or damage including without limitation, indirect or consequential loss or damage, or any loss or damage whatsoever arising from loss of materials, time or profits arising out of, or in connection with, the use of this information.