What Do Recycling Symbols on Plastics Mean?

Oct 16


M. Scott Parisi

M. Scott Parisi

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The Society of the Plastics Industry, Inc. (SPI) introduced the resin coding system in 1988 driven by growing communities and state-level mandates to decrease the volume of waste subject to tipping fees at landfills.

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The Society of the Plastics Industry,What Do Recycling Symbols on Plastics Mean? Articles Inc. (SPI) introduced the resin coding system in 1988 driven by growing communities and state-level mandates to decrease the volume of waste subject to tipping fees at landfills.

The SPI code was developed to meet recyclers’ needs and provide manufacturers a nationwide uniform system. Since municipal recycling programs mainly target packaging, such as containers, the SPI coding system offers a means of identifying the resin content of bottles and containers commonly found in the waste stream. Recycling firms have varying standards for the plastics they accept. Some firms may require that the plastics be sorted by type and separated from other recyclables; some may specify that mixed plastics are acceptable if they are separated from other recyclables; while others may accept all material mixed together. Not all types of plastics are generally recycled, and recycling facilities may not be available in some areas.

Polyethylene Terephthalate

Descriptions: Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET, PETE). PET is clear, tough, and has good gas and moisture barrier properties. Commonly used in soft drink bottles and many injection molded consumer product containers. Other applications include strapping and both food and non-food containers. Cleaned, recycled PET flakes and pellets are in great demand for spinning fiber for carpet yarns, producing fiberfill and geo-textiles. Nickname: Polyester.

Properties: Clarity, strength, toughness, barrier to gas and moisture, resistance to heat.

Packaging Applications: Plastic soft drink, water, sports drink, beer, mouthwash, catsup and salad dressing bottles. Peanut butter, pickle, jelly and jam jars. Ovenable film and ovenable prepared food trays.

Recycled Products: Fiber, tote bags, clothing, film and sheet, food and beverage containers, carpet, strapping, fleece wear, luggage and bottles.

High Density Polyethylene

Descriptions: HDPE is used to make bottles for milk, juice, water and laundry products. Unpigmented bottles are translucent, have good barrier properties and stiffness, and are well suited to packaging products with a short shelf life such as milk. Because HDPE has good chemical resistance, it is used for packaging many household and industrial chemicals such as detergents and bleach. Pigmented HDPE bottles have better stress crack resistance than unpigmented HDPE bottles.

Properties: Stiffness, strength, toughness, resistance to chemicals and moisture, permeability to gas, ease of processing, and ease of forming.

Packaging Applications: Milk, water, juice, cosmetic, shampoo, dish and laundry detergent bottles; yogurt and margarine tubs; cereal box liners; grocery, trash and retail bags.

Recycled Products: Liquid laundry detergent, shampoo, conditioner and motor oil bottles; pipe, buckets, crates, flower pots, garden edging, film and sheet, recycling bins, benches, dog houses, plastic lumber, floor tiles, picnic tables, fencing.

Vinyl (Polyvinyl Chloride or PVC)

Descriptions:  In addition to its stable physical properties, PVC has excellent chemical resistance, good weatherability, flow characteristics and stable electrical properties. The diverse slate of vinyl products can be broadly divided into rigid and flexible materials. Bottles and packaging sheet are major rigid markets, but it is also widely used in the construction market for such applications as pipes and fittings, siding, carpet backing and windows. Flexible vinyl is used in wire and cable insulation, film and sheet, floor coverings synthetic leather products, coatings, blood bags, medical tubing and many other applications.

Properties: Versatility, clarity, ease of blending, strength, toughness, resistance to grease, oil and chemicals.

Packaging Applications: Clear food and non-food packaging, medical tubing, wire and cable insulation, film and sheet, construction products such as pipes, fittings, siding, floor tiles, carpet backing and window frames.

Recycled Products: Packaging, loose-leaf binders, decking, paneling, gutters, mud flaps, film and sheet, floor tiles and mats, resilient flooring, cassette trays, electrical boxes, cables, traffic cones, garden hose, mobile home skirting.

Low Density Polyethylene

Descriptions:  Used predominately in film applications due to its toughness, flexibility and relative transparency, making it popular for use in applications where heat sealing is necessary. LDPE is also used to manufacture some flexible lids and bottles and it is used in wire and cable applications.

Properties: Ease of processing, strength, toughness, flexibility, ease of sealing, barrier to moisture.

Packaging Applications: Dry cleaning, bread and frozen food bags, squeezable bottles, e.g. honey, mustard.

Recycled Products: Shipping envelopes, garbage can liners, floor tile, furniture, film and sheet, compost bins, paneling, trash cans, landscape timber, lumber.


Descriptions:  Polypropylene has good chemical resistance, is strong, and has a high melting point making it good for hot-fill liquids. PP is found in flexible and rigid packaging to fibers and large molded parts for automotive and consumer products.

Properties: Strength, toughness, resistance to heat, chemicals, grease and oil, versatile, barrier to moisture.

Packaging Applications: Catsup bottles, yogurt containers and margarine tubs, medicine bottles.

Recycled Products: Automobile battery cases, signal lights, battery cables, brooms, brushes, ice scrapers, oil funnels, bicycle racks, rakes, bins, pallets, sheeting, trays.


Descriptions:  Polystyrene is a versatile plastic that can be rigid or foamed. General purpose polystyrene is clear, hard and brittle. It has a relatively low melting point. Typical applications include protective packaging, containers, lids, cups, bottles and trays.

Properties: Versatility, insulation, clarity, easily formed

Packaging Applications: Compact disc jackets, food service applications, grocery store meat trays, egg cartons, aspirin bottles, cups, plates, cutlery.

Recycled Products: Thermometers, light switch plates, thermal insulation, egg cartons, vents, desk trays, rulers, license plate frames, foam packing, foam plates, cups, utensils.


Descriptions:  Other Use of this code indicates that the package in question is made with a resin other than the six listed above, or is made of more than one resin listed above, and used in a multi-layer combination.

Properties: Dependent on resin or combination of resins.

Packaging Applications: Three and five gallon reusable water bottles, some citrus juice and catsup bottles.

Recycled Products: Bottles, plastic lumber applications.

About EcoGreenHotel

EcoGreenHotel LLC is a privately held company dedicated to helping lodging facilities addressesabroad spectrum of sustainability issues. The company provides information, tools, checklists, current news and trends to the hospitality industry through its website, www.EcoGreenHotel.com. In 2009, the company launched an online marketplace for green products and services at www.EcoGreenHotelStore.com. In addition to the online offerings, EcoGreenHotel provides customized consulting services tailored to the needs of the hospitality industry in the areas of energy efficiency and certifications, including LEED, Green Seal and Energy Star. For those properties that have reached certified levels of sustainability, EcoGreenHotel assists with marketing services to position the properties within the growing “green” space and enhance revenue. For further information, emailinfo@EcoGreenHotel.com or call 888.229.0213.

For more information, please visit: http://www.ecogreenhotel.com

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