What Does That Chasing Arrow Symbol on Plastic Products Mean?

Professor Plastic

Professor Plastic

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Professor Plastic in the Chemistry Lab

You see it all the time—the symbol that looks like a chasing arrow with the number in the middle. But what does it mean?

That little symbol on a plastic product identifies the type of plastic (resin) used to make that item. So how does this relate to recycling? Well, recyclers sometimes use this information to sort plastics for recycling, so people often think of the chasing arrows as recycling symbols.

What Can Be Recycled?

When it comes to recycling plastics, where you live makes a difference. Recycling facilities may not be available in all areas. Check to see if they exist in your community. Some communities collect specific plastic products in curbside recycling programs while others may offer drop-off programs at community recycling centers—and even recycling bins for plastic bags and wraps at neighborhood retail stores.

Here’s a list of the types of plastics, common packaging products made from them and some products that may be made with recycled plastic.

Polyethylene TerephthalatePolyethylene Terephthalate (PETE) or (PET)

Uses of PET include: bottles for soft drinks, water, sports drinks, beer, mouthwash, and salad dressing, food jars for peanut butter, jelly, and pickles.

Products made with recycled PET include: oven safe film, microwavable food trays fiber for carpet, fleece jackets, comforter fill, and tote bags, containers for food, beverages (bottles), and non-food items.

High Density PolyethyleneHigh Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

Uses of HDPE include: bottles for milk, water, juice, cosmetics, shampoo, dish and laundry detergents, and household cleaners, containers for margarine and other foods, cereal box liners., trash and retail bags.

Products made with recycled HDPE include: bottles for non-food items such as shampoo, conditioner, liquid laundry detergent, household cleaners, motor oil, and antifreeze, plastic lumber for outdoor decking, fencing, and picnic tables, pipe, floor tiles, buckets, crates, flower pots, garden edging and recycling bins.

Polyvinyl ChloridePolyvinyl Chloride (PVC, Vinyl)

Uses of PVC include: deli and meat wrap, shrink wrap, retail product packaging (blister packs).

Products made with recycled PVC include: pipe, decking, fencing, paneling, gutters, carpet backing, floor tiles and mats, resilient flooring, mud flaps, cassette trays, electrical boxes, cables, traffic cones, garden hoses, and mobile home skirting, packaging and loose-leaf binders.

Low Density PolyethyleneLow Density Polyethylene (LDPE)

Uses of LDPE include: bags for dry cleaning, newspapers, bread, frozen foods, fresh produce and household garbage, shrink wrap and stretch film, coatings for paper milk cartons and hot and cold beverage cups, container lids and squeezable bottles (e.g. honey, mustard).

Products made with recycled LDPE include: shipping envelopes, garbage can liners, floor tile, paneling, furniture, compost bins, trash cans, landscape timber and outdoor lumber.

PolypropylenePolypropylene (PP)

Uses of PP include: Containers for yogurt, margarine, take out meals, and deli foods, bottle caps and closures, bottles for medicine, syrup, ketchup.

Products made with recycled PP include: automobile applications, such as battery cases, signal lights, battery cables, brooms and brushes, ice scrapers, oil funnels, and bicycle racks, garden rakes, storage bins, shipping pallets, and trays.

PolystyrenePolystyrene (PS)

Uses of PS include: food service items such as cups, plates, bowls, cutlery, and hinged take-out containers, meat and poultry trays, egg cartons, and food containers, protective packaging for electronics, furniture and other delicate items, packing peanuts, compact disc cases, and aspirin bottles.

Products made with recycled PS include: thermal insulation, thermometers, light switch plates, vents, desk trays, and license plate frames, cameras or video cassette casings, foamed food service applications, such as egg shell carton, plastic moldings (i.e., wood replacement products), expandable polystyrene (EPS) foam protective packaging.

OtherOther (indicates that a package is made with a resin other than the six listed above or is made of more than one resin.)

Uses of other plastic include: three- and five-gallon reusable water bottles and some citrus juice and ketchup bottles.

Products made with recycled content include: bottles and plastic lumber applications.