Plastics Codes 1 to 7 – what do they mean?

As part of its product offering of essential life science and laboratory solutions, Interpath Services provides a range of heavy-duty plastic bags and sharps containers, giving a great second (and third) life to RIC # 1 polyethylene plastics. These products are identified by the Modius Loop.

Are you familiar with this recycling loop, with its three bent arrows forming a circle? That’s the Modius Loop, the universal symbol for cycling that first appeared in 1970 – initially to raise consumer awareness of recycled paper.

Fast forward to 1988 and another, very similar logo appeared – a triangle with the numbers 1 to 7 in the middle. You know that one too, I’m sure. This is the plastic resin identification code and it indicates the resin composition of the plastic. The number tells us what type of plastic the container is made from. It was first developed to help recyclers know which plastic a product or packaging was made from so they could determine its recyclability.

Confusing? Yes, it certainly is.

The similarity between the recycling symbol and the plastics identification symbols has made it hard for consumers to know what to put in which bin for a long time. Sometimes the plastic-type correlates with whether it's recyclable, but not always. Recyclability can also depend on other things like the shape of the container as well.

To make the process easier a new recyclability label was developed in 2018 for both Australia and New Zealand. The ARL (Australasian Recycling Label) is an on-pack labelling scheme that helps consumers understand how to recycle products correctly. Shown below, you can see the label makes it easier to understand which component goes into which bin.

More about the plastic identification codes.

Each number within the triangle represents a type of plastic, and different types of plastics are generally used in particular ways, as follows:

# 1 – indicates the plastic is polyethylene terephthalate, which is shortened to PET or PETE. It is the easiest plastic to recycle. Normally found on bottles for soft drinks and water, vegetable oil containers and mouthwash bottles.

PET bottles can be recycled into new containers, pallet straps, panelling, carpet and clothing fibres, and fibrefill for soft furnishings and sleeping bags.


 # 2 – this high-density polyethylene, or HDPE, is also easily recycled. You can find HDPE in shampoo bottles, butter tubs, shopping bags, bags inside cereal boxes, household cleaners and detergent bottles.

HDPE plastic can be recycled into timber, drainage pipes, pens, fencing, picnic tables, benches, and floor tiles, plus back into more bags and bottles.


 # 3 – indicates the plastic is polyvinyl chloride. You can find it in piping, medical equipment, wire jacketing, certain clear food packaging, cooking oil, window cleaner, detergent, and shampoo bottles.

Vinyl is rarely recycled. A tiny percentage of PVC is recycled into mats, speed bumps, cables, flooring, roadway gutters, mud flaps, panelling and decks.


 # 4 – this plastic is low-density polyethylene or LDPE. It is commonly found in shopping bags, squeezable bottles, carpets, furniture, clothing, tote bags, dry cleaning bags, and frozen food or bread bags. And you know that bubble wrap you love to pop?

LDPE is rarely recycled, but when it is it is recycled back into similar types of products


# 5 – indicates the plastic is polypropylene or PP. It is commonly found in medicine bottles, straws, bottle caps, sauce and syrup bottles, and some yoghurt containers. This plastic is often chosen for bottles and containers that must accept hot liquids as it has a high melting point. 

PP is not often recycled. When it is it can be made into trays, pallets, bins, rakes, bicycle racks, landscape borders, auto battery cases, brushes, brooms, battery cables, and signal lights.


 # 6 – is the plastic polystyrene (PS), which is also commonly referred to as Styrofoam. You can find PS in disposable cups and plates, carry-out containers, egg cartons, and meat trays.

Difficult to recycle as it’s lightweight so there’s not much material to reclaim. It can, however, be recycled into packaging and containers, as well as foam packing, light switch plates and insulation.


# 7 – these plastics include nylon and polycarbonate and are found in certain food containers, signs and displays, computers and electronic devices, DVDs, and sunglasses.

These plastics are rarely recycled, but they could be transformed into plastic timber and certain custom-made products.  



Now when you view our product range you know a little more about product symbols.