Understanding Numbers Used for Plastics Identification


You have more than likely noticed the recycling symbol that is imprinted on plastic products. In addition to the circulating arrows, there is also a number. While many people will call this a plastic code or a plastic number, the official name for it is the plastics identification code, or PIC.

Identifying Plastic Types

In all, there are seven different plastics identification codes, which were released by the Society of Plastics Industry, Inc. in the late 20th century. The intention of these numbers is to be used in order to identify the various types of plastics during the recycling process.

Each plastics identification code refers to a different type of plastic, such as:

  • Polyethylene Terephthalate (Type 1)
  • High-Density Polyethylene (Type 2)
  • Polyvinyl Chloride (Type 3)
  • Low-Density Polyethylene (Type 4)
  • Polypropylene (Type 5)
  • Polystyrene (Type 6)
  • Other (Type 7)

Why Plastics Must Be Identified

In order for recycled plastic to be reused in the manufacturing of new products, it first must be properly identified and separated according to its specific type. The reason for this is that some plastics cannot be melted together with other plastics because of their different properties and melting points.

When various types of plastics are melted together at the same time, the result will typically be a mixture that solidifies in layers and produces a very weak structure. The best practice for recycling plastics is to separate each piece according to color and type.

You may be wondering if it is possible to recycle any plastic product that has a plastics identification code stamped into it. While the simple answer is yes, you can recycle any plastic product that is marked with an identification number, you will find that not all facilities have the ability to process all types of plastic. As a matter of fact, the majority of recycling centers today will only be willing to take Type 1 and Type 2 plastics.

However, it is important to note that even those facilities may not accept all forms of these plastic types. For example, many recycling centers do not have the ability to process plastic grocery bags even though they are made of Type 2 plastic. The best thing to do would be to take the time to do a little research before taking any plastic products to be recycled. Especially since anything that these facilities receive that cannot be recycled will be sent along to the landfills.