To Recycle or Not to Recycle: What The Symbols on Plastic Products Mean

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle! We’ve heard this mantra for as long as we can remember. We know we can recycle plastic water bottles, cans of diet coke, and…that’s it. Everything else has to go in the garbage, right? Wrong! In fact, this ignorance causes so many recyclable products to end up in landfills and oceans. 

If something is improperly thrown away, it could pose a threat to our health and the environment. With some research, it’s easy to differentiate what can be recycled in everyday recycling cans, what can be taken to special recycling centers, and what just has to be thrown away in normal garbage cans. Here’s a simple guide to help you out!


  1. 1. Recycling Symbol #1 (PET/PETE)

    This is the most common symbol you will see! PET/PETE is the most frequently used kind of plastic because it’s the safest, cheapest, and most recyclable. It’s mostly used for water bottles, soft drink bottles, peanut butter containers, and other condiment bottles. The best way to recycle anything with a 1 symbol is to throw it in any everyday recycling can you can find. 

  2. 2. Recycling Symbol #2 (HDPE)

    This is also a super common type of plastic and can be found in milk jugs, shampoo bottles, and even cereal box liners! Much like #1, HDPE can generally be recycled in everyday recycling collection. However, each city has different guidelines so it is best to check. For example: in the city of Boston, cereal box liners can’t be recycled but the rest on the list can be.

  3. 3. Recycling Symbol #3 (V/PVC)

    Rarely recyclable but widely used, V/PVC is mainly used in PVC pipes, windows, and other products using “harder” plastics. This one is not accepted by everyday recycling programs, but some cities have special programs that recycle this. You can always find these programs by searching your nearest one online!

  4. 4. Recycling Symbol #4 (LDPE)

    LDPE plastic generally takes form in plastic shopping bags, shrink wrap, and some squeezable bottles. Sadly, this is one of the plastics that is not generally accepted by normal recycling services. Some cities and stores will have have programs that recycle plastic bags. Again, it is best to check with your city to see what their policy regarding this pesky plastic is!

  5. 5. Recycling Symbol #5 (PP)

    #5 is another very common type of plastic because the melting point of this plastic is very high, so it is used in many food storage products! It is generally found in yogurt containers, cups from Starbucks/coffee shops, and straws. Good news: this is actually one that is okay to be recycled! However, straws can not be recycled because they are too small to be recycled.

  6. 6. Recycling Symbol #6 (PS)

    PS plastic is generally created into rigid kinds of plastic or styrofoam. If it is in its rigid form, it can be found in disposable cups, CD cases, and plastic egg containers. It can be recycled if #6 is in this form! However, if it is in its styrofoam form it cannot be. Styrofoam has also been found to damage your nervous system and possibly cause cancer. YIKES!

  7. 7. Recycling Symbol #7 (Other/Miscellaneous)

    #7 is as simple as this: it’s everything that hasn’t been listed! It is generally found in sunglasses, phone cases, and certain food containers. This is also one that is primarily  not accepted in everyday recycling programs, but it is always best to check. In addition, be careful with this one because some studies have pointed to this kind to possibly disrupt endocrine systems from functioning properly.

The best way to be friendly to the environment is to avoid plastic altogether. However, if you must use them, it’s important to do your research and figure out how your plastic habits won’t harm the environment. Still confused? If you are a resident of Boston, here is a handy guide on what you can put in your recycling can!