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Plastic Numbers, What Do They Mean? | Kaylynn O’Curran

Plastic Numbers, What Do They Mean?

Kaylynn O’Curran

Plastic. It is something we use in our everyday lives, whether it be laundry detergent or tubberware for your leftover pizza. If you ever look on the bottom of these plastics you use, you may see a number. There are about 7 different types that are made and mean a variety of different things. A common misconception for people who are beginning to recycle is that every type of plastic can be recycled, but this isn’t always true.

The first and most common type of plastic is #1. This is commonly seen in plastic water bottles, plastic lids, soda bottles, and other types of containers. The plastic is called PET or Polyethylene Terephthalate and is only intended for single use. These are recyclable items and you can very easily do so. #1 bottles, glass bottles, and tin cans can be recycled for money at many locations all around San Diego. The next type of plastic is #2, called HDPE, or High Density Polyethylene. This stiff plastic is seen in milk jugs or detergent bottles. These are the most commonly recycled plastic items, according to Learn Earth Easy. #2 plastics are not only used in household containers but also in picnic tables and waste bins. This plastic is both recyclable and reusable. The next plastic is #3, PVC, or Polyvinyl Chloride. PVC is used for food wrapping, cooking oil bottles, and many other items of the sort. It is also used for pipes, plumbing parts, and window frames. PVC is known to be very toxic and leaks chemicals throughout its life cycle. It is not a recyclable plastic, but it can sometimes be repurposed.

The next plastic is #4, known as LDPE, or Low-Density Polyethylene. This is commonly found in squeezable bottles, shrink wrap, dry cleaner garment bags, and grocery bags. This plastic is not very toxic and is starting to be more commonly recycled in communities. They are commonly reusable but not always recyclable. If you have a recycle bin that is picked up weekly, you can ask if they accept #4 plastic! #5 plastic is known as PP, or Polypropylene. This plastic is good at keeping items fresh, so it is commonly used in yogurt containers and chip bags. According to Learn Earth Easy, only about 3% of PP is recycled a year, but it can sometimes be picked up by curbside trash companies. PP is reusable, and the recycled version is used for many different things. PS, or Polystyrene, is plastic #6. This plastic is commonly used for styrofoam containers and foam packaging. It is a very weak plastic that breaks apart very easily, meaning it is very commonly an environment pollutant. It is also thought to leach chemicals into food products that can cause reproductive problems. This is not a plastic that is recycled very often and is found mostly in landfills. However, in San Diego, we are fortunate enough to be one of the only cities that allows PS food and drink containers to be recycled in blue bins. But with how weak it is, it should be avoided. The final plastic is #7, known as Other, BPA, Polycarbonate, or LEXAN. There is a risk with these plastics for leaking chemicals into foods, but as they are a lump group, reuse and recycling protocol changes for each. These plastics are used for baby bottles and other items and is very dangerous to the endocrine system. #7 is considered the plastic to avoid at all costs because it can affect people very negatively. There are people trying to create similar biodegradable resources to avoid having to use #7.

Plastic is found in many day to day items and has become a cheaper option in our society. There are drawbacks with each type of plastic, but it is important to be aware of what each means. Trying to cut back on waste is something that is essential to the future of our Earth. Also, many of these plastics can negatively affect your health. I would ask that you think before you buy. 

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