Do You Know Nutrition: Making sense of plastic recycle codes

By Phylis Canion
May 29, 2012 at 12:29 a.m.

Phylis Canion

Phylis Canion

Can you please explain the differences in the plastic recycle codes? I have noticed that on the bottom of plastic and Styrofoam there is a triangle with a number in it. What do the numbers indicate and are some numbers safer than others?

The Society of the Plastic Industry created a method of categorization of polymer types in 1988. The Society determined which plastics are recyclable via their resin/polymer identification code, a number that is surrounded by a triangle of arrows and is located on all plastic and most Styrofoam containers.

The No. 1, polyethylene terephthalate, is recycled to make carpet, furniture, new containers and polar fleece. Most water bottles have a 1 in the triangle and it is considered safe for single use.

The No. 2, high-density polyethylene, is recycled to make detergent bottles, fencing, floor tiles and pens. This polyethylene transmits no known chemicals into food and is considered safe.

The No. 3, vinyl, is recycled to make cables, mudflaps, paneling and roadway gutters and is believed to contain phalates that can interfere with hormone development and is best if it use is avoided.

The number 4, low-density polyethylene, is recycled to make envelopes, floor titles, lumber, trash can liners and is considered safe since it transmits no known chemicals into food.

The No. 5, polypropylene, is recycled to make battery cables, brooms, ice scrapers and rakes, and is considered safe since transmits no known chemicals into food.

The No. 6, polystyrene, is recycled to make foam packaging, insulation, light switchplates and rulers, and is believed to leach styrene, a possible human carcinogen into food and is best avoided at all times.

The No. 7 is made of miscellaneous components and contains bisphenol A, which has been linked to heart disease and other diseases.

The use of products that contain a No. 7 within the triangle should be avoided.

The Department of Health and Human Services, through its Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration, is currently investigating the new health studies in both animals and humans to better determine and evaluate the potentials effects of bisphenol A exposure and expect to have the results within 18 to 24 months.

The FDA is currently supporting efforts to stop the manufacture of infant bottles and cups made with bisphenol A from the U.S. market.

To recap, it is best to avoid use of containers that have the No.'s 3, 6 or 7 within the triangle. I often wonder - will plastic be the asbestos of the future?

Next free nutrition class will be at 7 p.m. June 11 at Organic Emporium.

Phylis B. Canion is a doctor of naturopathic medicine and is a certified nutritional consultant, email her at This column is for nutritional information only and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure.



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