Recycling plastics – what the numbers mean

Tuesday 29 October 2019

You’ve told us you’re finding recycling plastic the hardest part of the Yarra Waste Revolution.

We’re being strict about what you can recycle in your yellow-lidded bin as we’re only collecting plastic we know can be recycled here in Australia.

It can be confusing as containers or bags have the recycling symbol on them – but that doesn’t mean they can actually be recycled. 

What are the numbers?

On most plastic bottles, jars, containers and other packaging, you’ll find the recycling symbol with a number in the middle, and sometimes letters underneath.

This is called the Plastics Identification Code. It was launched in 1988 by the Society of the Plastics Industry in the US and was introduced to Australia in 1990.

The number in the triangle identifies what kind of plastic the item is made from, NOT whether it is recyclable.

The code is a product stewardship program from the plastics industry. The numbering system identifies the resin composition of the plastic. 

What do they mean?

Here we explain the type of plastic relating to each symbol.

1 – PET or Polyethylene Terephthalate

The easiest plastic to recycle. It’s a clear, tough, solvent resistant plastic. It’s used for water, soft drink and detergent bottles. It’s recycled into bottles and polyester fibres.

2 – HDPE or High Density Polyethylene

You can find HDPE in both rigid and soft plastic forms. It’s a very common plastic, and in the rigid form is usually white or coloured, and is used for milk bottles, shampoo bottles and cleaning products. Yarra accepts HDPE bottles only, which are recycled into more bottles or bags. As a soft plastic, HDPE is found in freezer bags, plastic bags, and other plastic food packaging.

3 – PVC or Polyvinyl Chloride

This stuff is everywhere – pipes, toys, furniture and packaging. It’s difficult to recycle and contains harmful chemicals.

4 – LDPE or Low Density Polyethylene

This is usually a soft, flexible plastic that’s used for different kinds of wrapping, bread bags, produce bags and bin bags.

5 – PP or Polypropylene

This is a hard but still flexible plastic. It’s used for ice cream containers and lids and plastic take away containers. Yarra accepts food containers labelled 5 only. 

6 – PS or Polystyrene

This is used to make cups, foam food trays and packing materials. It’s also known as Styrofoam and is a real problem as it’s bulky yet very light and this makes it difficult to recycle.

7 – Other

This shows the item could be a mixture of any and all of the above or a plastic that is not readily recyclable, such as polyurethane.

But what can I recycle?

Not all plastics are recyclable through your yellow-lidded bin.

Don’t follow the number, use our information. These are the plastics that can be recycled:

  • Cleaning product bottles
  • Detergent bottles
  • Ice-cream containers/lids
  • Juice bottles
  • Milk bottles
  • Shampoo, conditioner, shower gel bottles
  • Soft drink bottles

Plastic punnets were originally accepted if they had the number 1 in the recycling symbol, but our processor has said they are too difficult to separate so are no longer accepted. They need to be able to tell what material an item is made from, quickly, when sorting, and some punnets are made from other types of plastic.

If you’re not sure if you can recycle something, unfortunately it is best to put it in your landfill bin. Remember to rinse everything.

If you have other types of plastic, you can drop it off at our Clifton Hill recycling drop off point.

We know it’s frustrating to put other plastic in your landfill bin. But we are only collecting plastic we know can be recycled here in Australia. You can read about how to avoid the other non-recyclable plastics.

Read more information about what can go in your yellow-lidded bin.


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