The CHEM-ELEON iPhone app

Articles about your health, what you eat, our earth and lots of other stuff...


The Great Recycling Myth- Recycling Plastic


Recycling is one of the easiest ways we can help the environment but did you know that not all plastic is recyclable? If you look at the bottom of a plastic bottle or container there are the three arrows chasing each other in a triangle and many of us identify this with recycling – but we’re wrong. These three arrows don’t mean anything unless they have a number in the middle – the Plastics Identification Code (PIC). This number indicates the type of plastic it is and whether or not it can be recycled.

If the container has no number in the little triangle it cannot be recycled. If there are the numbers 1 and 2 it can generally be recycled, unfortunately that doesn’t mean it will be – for example yogurt containers that have a number 2 can’t be recycled.

The list below will help you understand what gets recycled and how it gets reused.









PETE (Post-consumer polyethylene terephthalate) plastic very commonly used for single-use bottle beverages, including water, milk, juice and soft drink plastic bottles. Also used for mouthwash bottles, salad dressing jars,toys, in cars, toys, packaging, clothing, home goods, plastic food cutlery and more.
Can be recycled into clothing items, tote bags, furniture, carpet, etc.

HDPE type 2 plastics







HDPE (High density polyethylene) Found in milk bottles, juice bottles, house hold cleaner bottles and detergents, butter and yogurt containers, cereal box liners, skin care and hair products bottles, packaging and more.

Can be recycled info laundry detergernt bottles, oil bottles, pens, recycling containers, floor tiles, drainage pipes, benches, fencing,etc.

type 3 plastics








V (Vinyl or PVC) Found in house hold cleaner bottles,skin care and hair care bottles, cooking oil bottles, clear food packaging, pipes and more.
Releases highly dangerous toxins when heated, avoid cooking or heating food in pvc containers and cling wrap.

Not recycled in most places, although it can be converted into flooring, auto parts, shower curtains, speed bumps, mud flaps, mats, decks and paneling, etc.

LDPE type 4 plastic








LDPE (Low density polyethylene) Found in squeezable bottles, bread bags, frozen food, dry cleaning and shopping bags,clothing, furniture, carpet, tote & hand bags.
Not recycled in most places,it can be recycled into thinner plastics like plastic wrap, sandwich bags, etc.

PP type 5 plastic








PP (Polypropylene) Found in some yogurt tubs, syrup and squeezable bottles, caps, tupperware, straws and medicine bottles.
It doesn’t recycle well, however it can sometimes be recycled into signal lights, brooms, brushes, bins, buckets, trays, etc.

PS type 6 plastic








PS (Polystyrene) Disposable plates and cups, meat trays, take away containers, compact disc cases and more.
Can leach toxins into food so please avoid using it for food.

Most PS plastics are not recycled, although they can be recycled into insulation, light switch plates, foam packaging.

plastic type 7








Other (Miscellaneous) Large water bottles, sunglasses, DVD cases, signage, nylon and more. Polycarbonate which is classified as a 7 can leach a potential hormone disruptor.
This plastic group is rarely recycled.

If you would like more detail about the plastics mentioned above, visit the choice website. It features an extremely interesting and slightly depressing table which shows the percentage of different plastics that actually make it to be potentially reincarnated into something else - the numbers are not nearly as high as I thought they would be. 

Plastics with numbers 3 - 7 on the bottom are rarely recycled. I was quite annoyed when I found this out, I feel like I’ve been misled, and in a way, we all have been. So if you have plastic containers with those numbers or plastic bags, make sure you reuse them or put them in the normal rubbish because they won’t find a new home.

Another important thing to remember when putting your plastic bottles into the recycling is that the lids are made of different plastic to the container - so remove the lids! Removing the lid also ensures no liquid is left in the container, which can impede its ability to be recycled. It’s always a good idea to rinse all bottles as well as milk cartons.

So next time you throw something in the recycling be aware that it may just go to landfill anyway and the best way to stop this from happening is to cut down on the plastic you buy.

That’s why the four R’s to remember are Reduce (your use of plastic), Reuse (what you can), Recycle (where possible) and Recover (buy products packaged in recycled material). 

And remember.... Recycling plastic is expensive in terms of energy and money. Although transporting plastic containers over long distances uses less energy than the glass world, using refillable containers of any kind conserves the most energy. So when ever possibel avoid purchasing and using plastic, look for other alternatives.

For more info take a look at the Clean Up Australia Fact Sheet.

If you're interested in understanding the recycling process, contact your local council. Most of them offer free recycling tours several times a year.

You might also be interested in...

What do you think?