Plastic recycling symbols - what do they actually mean?

February 10, 2021

In general, Australians take very good care of recycling. The general recycling process is simplified, for example through the Australasian Recycling Label Here the consumer can quickly see what goes into the household bin and can be recycled and what is more landfill material. With plastic, however, it is much more difficult to decide which type of plastic can be recycled and which cannot. So it is more than urgent to explain the individual plastic symbols in more detail.

Plastic is one of the main materials we use, and it is also the main thing that goes into our recycling bins. There are seven different types of plastic according to the resin identification code, and each plastic needs to be handled differently.

Many products we use nowadays are made with symbols on the packaging that can let you know what plastic it is and how it can be recycled.

Ridly rubbish removal offers an extensive recycling service in Sydney for all different types of plastic. 

What Are The Recycling Symbols?

Understanding what recycling symbol is on your plastic items will make it easy to recycle. Recycling symbols are used to show what kind of plastic the item is made from and how then they can be recycled.

Once you understand each recycling symbol, you will be able to make the most sustainable choices for your rubbish.

Every recycling symbol looks like a triangle. The triangle is made up of arrows to indicate whether an item is recyclable, but it is the numbers within the triangle that make the most difference.

These numbers are codes, and they stand for the plastic that is used in products. Once you understand these codes, you will be able to determine which item is recyclable and how to dispose of it. 

Ridly offers extensive recycling services, and we can handle all kinds of plastic that are to be recycled. 

Only a certain type of plastic can go into your recycling bin, which is collected by the council on a weekly or fortnightly basis. The rest will need to be recycled or disposed of in other means, depending on what the item is made of.

Every Recycling Symbol Explained

There are seven recycling symbols that can be commonly found on plastic items which show what type of plastic the material is made from, based on the resin identification code, and if it is recyclable.

1) Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE)

Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) is the most common type of plastic we use, and it can be easily recycled. This means it is the plastic that you will throw in the recycling bin, and it is found in products such as cooking oil containers, peanut butter containers, soft drinks bottles, beer bottles as well as some plastic cups and shampoo containers. 

PET plastic packaging or containers are used for foods because it has a low risk of leaching. It is easily recyclable. 

How to Recycle: PET or PETE is one of the easiest plastics to recycle as it can be picked up by most curbside waste removal companies. Your local council should be able to take most of PET plastics from your recycling bin, as long as they have been rinsed out and are free from food debris.

Plastic bottle caps, which are found on water bottles, shampoo containers, and beer bottles, are not yet as recyclable and you will need to throw these in the standard waste bin instead of trying to have them recycled. 

2) High Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

High density polyethylene is a versatile plastic that is mainly used as packaging for items. This is a soft plastic that also has a low risk of leaching, which is why it can cover food items as well as being in other packagings such as shampoo bottles, oil bottles, detergent bottles, milk jugs, water bottles, yogurt tubs and other food containers. 

Detergent bottles and other containers tend to be quite hard and durable, which is what high density polyethylene is known for. 

How to Recycle: HDPE can be recycled through almost any roadside recycling program, as the materials are easy to break down and to be reused to form other plastics. While most HDPE materials can be recycled, it is a good idea to check with your local authority for more information as some items are not suitable for the recycling bin.

For example, some local councils may only allow containers with open necks to be recycled. Other kinds of HDPE packaging such as food wrap or plastic wrap cannot be as easily recycled, but some supermarkets do have a collection service for it. 

3) PVC or V 

PVC, which is polyvinyl chloride, is a tough type of plastic that weathers well. It is commonly used for packaging as well as things like piping and siding, but as it is cheap, it is used for all kinds of packaging. 

However, the main cause of concern for PVC is the fact it contains chloride which can release highly dangerous dioxins during manufacturing and when being burned.

You should never set PVC products on fire because the fumes will be highly toxic.

This kind of plastic is found on products such as shampoo bottles, cooking oil plastic bottles, wire jacketing, windows, and piping.

How to Recycle: Even though this plastic is found as packing on many an item, it is rarely recyclable. To dispose of these kinds of plastics safely, some plastic lumber makers may offer a collection service. You should ask your local waste management services what they do with PVC or V plastics to find the best solution for your area.

4) Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE)

Low density polyethylene is a flexible plastic that is a common part of packaging. This hasn't always been one of the plastics that can be recycled, but many locations are now changing their rules on it.

Before trying to get LDPE plastic recycled, make sure to get the right information from your local waste management service to see whether they accept LDPE into recycling. You may find that the symbol indicates that it cannot be recycled, but the rules may have changed since then.

This is a soft, flexible plastic that is found on packagings such as bread bags, squeezable bags or bottles, furniture, tote bags, dry cleaning, and plastic shopping bags.

How to Recycle: LDPE is not commonly recycled at the moment, so it usually cannot be thrown in the recycling bin with other plastic bottles. However, the rules are changing for some communities, and they have changed the way they recycle, which means that squeezable bottles and plastic bags made from LDPE might be able to be recycled.

Plastic shopping bags can usually be returned back to stores where they have their own recycling programs for them.

5) Polypropylene (PP)

This is another triangle symbol that indicates that a product can be recycled. It is the kind of plastic that is used for cups and containers of hot drinks, which is now becoming easier to recycle across Sydney.

Like plastic bags, sometimes hot water cups need to be returned back to the stores or cafes they were bought from because these companies know the best way to reuse this packaging. However, it is becoming more common to find a special bin that hot water cups can be recycled in.

PP plastic is also used on some yogurt containers, syrup bottles, medicine bottles, caps and straws.

How to Recycle: Like many plastics nowadays, it is becoming easier to recycle items with the PP symbol. Some rubbish services will be able to pick up a number of items that are made from PP, as long as there is no food or water left inside. 

As with other plastic bottles, it is a good idea to throw away any caps in the trash as they can become loose and end up trashing the streets at some point - even if you did throw everything in the bin.

6) Polystyrene (PS)

Polystyrene is a soft, mouldable plastic that can be made into firmer foam products such as packing peanuts that are used in packaging containers. The trademark Styrofoam is a form of Polystyrene plastic.

These plastics can leach onto food items and can be dangerous to humans if consumed. For these reasons, PS has long been an enemy of environmentalists because of how hard it is to recycle. Most recycling centres will still not accept PS plastics because it is 98% air and therefore very hard to have recycled.

You will find these plastics in packaging, paper plates and cups, egg cartons, meat trays, aspirin bottles, and compact disc cases. It is a good plastic for things like meat trays because the lightweight foam nature helps it absorb excess liquids.

How to Recycle: It is very hard to recycle PS and foam, which has caused a number of manufacturers to switch to using PET instead in their packaging. These plastics, as they are foam, tend to break into a number of pieces which can interfere with the local environment.

To dispose of this plastic properly, even though it cannot be recycled, you should break it into a number of pieces and place them into bags. Using the bags, you can squeeze the air out of the foam and tie them up to prevent pellets when in the trash.

7) Miscellaneous

The symbol used on plastics of this kind will probably not be recycled, because a number of resin types that fit into this category and some could be toxic.

When you see this symbol, it commonly indicates that a hard plastic is used, but there are some miscellaneous soft plastics too, such as bread bags. Whether they are suitable for recycling or not will depend on what the plastic is being used for.

You can expect to see this symbol for miscellaneous plastics on items such as three and five-gallon water bottles, bulletproof materials, sunglasses, cases for computers or mobile phones, signs and displays, some food containers including bags, and nylon. 

How to Recycle: In most cases, you cannot recycle miscellaneous plastic, which does mean that you will have to throw it in the trash with other household waste. It is unlikely that any recycling service will take miscellaneous plastic in case there are any risks.

How Ridly Can Help You Recycle

Ridly is the most sustainable waste removal service in Sydney, and we offer a wide range of services to help clear rubbish.

We offer recycling services that can help you get rid of most plastics.

Now that you know what each of the recycle symbols mean, you will be able to determine what kind of rubbish you need help with and what can be disposed of by the local council. 

Ready to be rid of it? Grab a quick quote from our team.

Call us on 0488 846 336.

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