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.
Article Title:
What do the plastic recycling numbers mean?
Article Summary:
Plastic material code symbols and their meanings
Article Date:
7/29/2003
Article ID:
638
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