Plastic Types

1, 2… 5? Wait, What?

Sorting out confusion about plastic waste.

Collection Instruction - Identify

To answer this frequently asked question, here is a crash course on plastic types and what those hard-to-see numbers actually mean!

We have all been there—frustrated, rummaging through the recyclable waste we’ve been storing up for the week (or month, no shame) and attempting to accurately separate the plastics into their required categories.

Where is that number? Which numbers can actually be recycled? Do I need to peel off the labels? Do they have to be washed out? Why do I bother doing this? What difference does it make, it probably just ends up in the landfill anyways.

Yep. Definitely a frustrating experience.  The most aggravating part is that it doesn’t need to be. We can simplify things for ourselves. Deep breath; and now let’s dive into the world of plastics. (Don’t worry, we’ll stay in the shallows.)

There are seven basic categories of plastics: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. Pretty straight forward, right? But what do those numbers symbolize?

We’ll go in numerical order.

  • Type 1 - PET

    Polyethylene terephthalate

    Uses: Soft drink and water bottles, platter domes, biscuit trays, food containers.

  • Type 2 - HDPE

    High-density polyethylene

    Uses: Shopping and freezer bags, milk and juice bottles, ice cream containers, hair product containers, crates.

  • Type 3 - PVC

    Polyvinyl chloride

    Uses: Cosmetic containers, electrical conduits, plumbing pipes, blister packs, roof sheeting, garden hoses.

  • Type 4 - LDPE

    Low-density polyethylene

    Uses: Cling-wrap, garbage bags, refuse bags, mulch film, baby carrot bags.

  • Type 5 - PP


    Uses: Ice cream tubes, straws, flower pots, dishes, garden furniture, food take-out containers.

  • Type 6 - PS


    Uses: CD cases, plastic cutlery, imitation glass, foamed meat trays.

  • Type 7 - Other

    ...all other plastics

    This is an umbrella category that includes ABS, PLA, Nylon, etc. Uses: Automotive parts, electronics, packaging and many more.


Now that we know what the different plastics are, what can be done with them?

Most of us have probably heard the phrase “When in doubt, throw it out” in regards to which plastics can be recycled. This is a good policy to follow if you are confused about identifying a piece of plastic and whether or not your municipality accepts it. Maintaining this guideline helps your local waste hauler(s) save time in sorting the plastics they can actually sell to manufacturers.

We want as much plastic as possible to be recycled; and even better, upcycled! To do this, it is helpful to know which plastics are accepted in the area you live. For specific regulations it is best to contact your local collection service to directly ask them for details. 
On a national level, the most commonly accepted types are numbers 1, 2, and 5. This is the result of when China began refusing the USA’s plastic waste since January of 2018. Before that time, waste haulers typically accepted types 1-7 (with the possible exception of 3) because there was a market in China for such variety of materials. While the ban has lead to difficulties for the United States’ plastic recycling system, it has also opened up opportunities for American companies to fill gaps in the marketplace.

CradleCraft is hoping to do just that. Small-scale we may be, but we would be able to accept a wider variety of plastics than waste haulers in Cumberland County, PA. CradleCraft and most other Precious Plastic workspaces gladly accept numbers 2, 4, 5, 6, and 7. Once we are up and in operation (Lord willing), please bring us any plastics that fit into those categories!

Plastics we can process

Hopefully this has helped to eliminate some of the confusion and frustration the next time you go to sort your plastic waste.

However, we can’t eliminate the fact that, yes, all plastic waste in the recycling bin should be de-labeled and washed.

Collection Instruction - Wash

Please take the little time it requires to do this step! It will help your local collectors do their job well and help more plastics reach what all recyclable materials (and Christians) long for—rebirth! 

God Bless.  




Sylvia provides the team with insight toward the "triple bottom line:" environmental viability, social justice, and economic strength. She can be found with her hands in the soil or enjoying God’s Creation on a walk through the forest.


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