Plastic Recycling Codes
Society of the Plastics Industry, Inc. (SPI) introduced its resin identification coding system in 1988 at the
urging of recyclers around the country. A growing number of communities were implementing recycling programs in an
effort to decrease the volume of waste subject to tipping fees at landfills. In some cases, these programs were
driven by state-level recycling mandates.
The plastic codes might, at first glance, seem too complicated to understand. Let me make it a bit easier.
In general, the more flexible the plastic the more likely it is to leach dangerous chemicals into the food or drink
that it contains. If the plastic is made out of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or high density polyethylene
(HDPE), they are considered to be safer then, say, bottles made out of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). To make it even
easier, choose plastic containers labeled #2, #4, and #5.
The SPI code was developed to meet recyclers’ needs while providing manufacturers a consistent, uniform system
that could apply nationwide. Because municipal recycling programs traditionally targeted packaging - primarily
containers – the SPI coding system offered a means of identifying the resin content of bottles and containers
commonly found in the residential 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.
|| Packaging Applications
|| Recycled Products
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.
||Clarity, strength, toughness, barrier to gas and moisture, resistance to heat.
||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
||Fiber, tote bags, clothing, film and sheet, food and beverage containers, carpet,
strapping, fleece wear, luggage and bottles.
Density Polyethylene (HDPE). 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.
||Stiffness, strength, toughness, resistance to chemicals and moisture, permeability to
gas, ease of processing, and ease of forming.
||Milk, water, juice, cosmetic, shampoo, dish and laundry detergent bottles; yogurt and
margarine tubs; cereal box liners; grocery, trash and retail bags.
||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). 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
||Versatility, clarity, ease of blending, strength,
toughness, resistance to grease, oil and chemicals.
||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.
||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.
Density Polyethylene (LDPE). 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.
||Ease of processing, strength, toughness, flexibility,
ease of sealing, barrier to moisture.
||Dry cleaning, bread and frozen food bags, squeezable
bottles, e.g. honey, mustard.
||Shipping envelopes, garbage can liners, floor tile,
furniture, film and sheet, compost bins, paneling, trash cans, landscape timber, lumber
||Polypropylene (PP). 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
||Strength, toughness, resistance to heat, chemicals,
grease and oil, versatile, barrier to moisture.
||Catsup bottles, yogurt containers and margarine tubs,
||Automobile battery cases, signal lights, battery cables,
brooms, brushes, ice scrapers, oil funnels, bicycle racks, rakes, bins, pallets, sheeting,
||Polystyrene (PS). 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.
||Versatility, insulation, clarity, easily
||Compact disc jackets, food service applications, grocery
store meat trays, egg cartons, aspirin bottles, cups, plates, cutlery.
||Thermometers, light switch plates, thermal insulation,
egg cartons, vents, desk trays, rulers, license plate frames, foam packing, foam plates, cups,
||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.