Plastic Recycling Codes
The RIC (Resin Identification Code) was created in 1988 to help us understand plastic waste and currently are the most commonly used symbols in the UK. Each number represents a different material used, what it’s usually used for, and how it’s recycled. It’s a bit like “plastics by numbers”!
1 – PETE
This is most commonly used for single-use consumer bottles, e.g. water and soft drinks. It is never recommended to re-use PETE bottles as the construction does not prevent from bacteria production. When recycled the material is often used to make new bottles or can be spun to make fibre e.g. pillow stuffing, carpets etc.
2 – HDPE
This is a much harder plastic used for milk jugs, toys, and other hard-wearing plastic products. It’s often labelled as “reusable” as the composition isn’t porous and doesn’t break down in extreme temperature environments. It’s easily recyclable into non-food bottles, plastic lumber, bins etc.
3 - PVC
PVC is a flexible plastic used in a variety of application e.g. food cling film, packing bubbles, pipes, and most commonly window frames. Whilst it’s almost entirely resistant to composition breakdown, regardless of environment, it does contain toxins. It’s rarely recycled and usually re-purposed, although never recommended for reuse on products affiliated with food or children’s products.
4 – LDPE
LDPE is usually used for light plastic bags, e.g. dry-cleaning garment covers, bread/fruit/veg bags and shrink wrapping. Whilst it’s low-toxicity makes it one of the safer plastics, it’s rarely recycled. It can be transformed into bin-bags and plastic lumber, but it is recommended that consumers find alternative packaging to LDPE as its use is often avoidable.
5 – PP
Probably the most versatile plastic on the market due to its heat resistance and moisture and chemical barriers. It keeps foodstuffs fresh and is really hardwearing. It’s mainly used on food packaging e.g. yogurts, cereal packets, rope, tape and snack packaging. It’s a product growing in recyclable popularity and can be recycled to create hard-wearing plastic materials such as bins, (broom) handles, cases etc. It was until recently the most popular material used in drink’s straw manufacturing, but many major brands are moving away from plastic straws because of recent environmental media focus.
6 – PS – Polystyrene
Polystyrene is easily formed, lightweight, cheap to manufacture and is most-widely used for single use food packaging. Take-away food and cups are usually made from this material as well as building insulation and packaging peanuts (which should always be reused over and over again). Its construction is weak and whilst it breaks very easily, it doesn’t biodegrade and has a huge negative impact on the environment and sea life. Its recycling uses are incredibly limited and business and consumers are now heavily encouraged to avoid and seek alternatives.
7 – Other
A new generation of plastic compositions come under this “other” category. These include new compostable plastics, Polycarbonates and new bio-based plastics. Examples of this category can be found in baby bottles/cups, food containers, car parts and some water bottles which have a high barrier. Recyclable 7 products are most commonly converted into plastic lumber used in building environments.
It is, and the rules can change depending on where you live in the UK.
But the good news is that there is some new labelling to help and give guidance.
Packaging labelled with this symbol are the most commonly recycled in the UK. An example of this is plastic bottles.
Widely Recycled – Rinse
This is where the packaging intended for recycling needs to be rinsed free from food residue or anything that could contaminate other recyclables or attract vermin into the recycling centre.
Widely recycled – Rinse, Lid On
Any recycled packaging that has a lid that needs to be rinsed comes under this category. This stops the lids from contaminating other recycling in the collection/sorting process.
Widely recycled – Widely Recycled – Flatten, Cap On
Recyclable waste that can be collapsed should be flattened making more room for other waste to be collected. Where a cap is present, keep the cap on to prevent it contaminating other recyclable types during the sorting collection/sorting process.
This is a generic recycling label which indicates that generally the product is recyclable, but checks with your local authority need to be made to confirm if it’s something that can be recycled by them.
The Green Dot
Contrary to popular belief, this does not mean the product is recyclable, or has been through the recycling process already. It’s use is intended to communicate that its manufacturer has contributed towards the funding of recycling processes.
Want to know what your local authority can recycle? A great website to look up your location, your local council and what you can and can’t put into your bins can be found at Recycle Now.