Those Crazy Recycling Triangle Numbers

Being more informed about what can be reused or recycled can really help reduce your carbon footprint.

Among all the things I have never understood – quantum physics, Rubik’s Cube and my little brother’s intentions – those darn recycling symbols, numbers inside of triangles on the bottom of every plastic container, seem to be too esoteric for my comprehension. But when I really put my mind to it, the concept becomes crystal clear.

The numbered triangles do not necessarily mean that the material is recycled plastic. The numbers actually represent a plastics classification system, meaning each number represents a different type of plastic.

The number 1 stands for PETE, which is short for Polyethylene Terephalate Ethylene. Not everyday speak, but gradually becoming a fundamental concept among the younger population and those who are environmentally savvy.

So now the important question becomes:  which of these plastics can you actually recycle?

Here’s a handy chart that sums it all up:

Technically, all of these plastics can be recycled, but the recycling program in your area will most likely not accept all of them. Check your municipality’s website for specific recycling guidelines for your area. Usually, items with the numbers 1 and 2 are recyclable, but the higher the number, the more difficult it is to recycle the item and the less likely it is to be accepted (this is know as rate of recyclability).

PETE #1 – Once it has been processed by a recycling facility, it is turned into fiberfill for winter coats, sleeping bags and life jackets. It can also be used to make bean bags, rope, car bumpers, tennis balls, combs, cassette tapes, sails, furniture, and, of course, other plastic bottles.

HDPE #2 – the high-density polyethylene plastics that typically hold laundry detergent, bleach, milk, shampoo and motor oil, are often recycled into toys, piping, plastic lumber and rope. They too are widely recyclable.

If you are like many of us here at Green Blizzard and are organizationally-challenged, consider a few well organized recycling bins to pre-sort your discards and reduce the workload.

For more information on this topic, Wise Geek, About and Obviously do a great job summarizing which types of plastics can be recycled.

Check out these articles for other green living tips: Use Natural Light To Save Electricity,  Primer on Environmental Policy,  Top 10 Energy-Efficient Home Products,  Beyond Recycling:  Ways to Handle Waste,  Why Recycle Paper?,  Aluminum Cans – A Power Saving Ingot

Some of the Green Blizzard’s team favorite recycling related products:


kennyBe sure to also read these other Green Blizzard articles:Five Ways to Go Green In AprilCycling Around Town Just Got Easier,  Green Film Festival,


About the author

Kenny Frankel

As graduate of the University of Maryland, Kenny has a major in Environmental Politics and Policy, so he's undoubtedly a guy well versed in environmental issues. Now, post college he is a practitioner of sustainable living and employed by solar installation company. We all will have a deeper green perspective after reading his articles because he brings a big picture insight to our everyday purchase decisions and even recycling.  As an early staff writer for Green Blizzard, Kenny covers environmental policy, big-agricultures impact on the environment, solar energy, recycling, and products made from recycled materials.