that number underneath your plastic bottle actually means something

The number on the bottom of your plastic bottles means something. Maybe you knew that, but I sure didn’t until a few years ago.

Even if you do know that you should pay attention to those numbers, you might not know exactly what those numbers are trying to tell ya.

Although I’m all about limiting plastic use when possible, the reality is that most of us are still going to buy and use plastic in one way or another. I have prescription medications that come in plastic bottles. When I order something online sometimes the inside wrapping is made out of plastic. And, though my fellow zero wasters would cringe at me saying this — there might be a time where you forgot your reusable mug and are DESPERATE for a cup of coffee.

We’ve all been there. It’s real life, folks.

So, in those situations where you have something plastic, or if you’re still trying to use up some of your current plastic-encased items, here’s what you should know.

Flip your plastic shampoo bottle upside down and look for the triangular symbol that looks a lot like a recycle symbol. Inside that symbol there will most likely be a number 1-7. Those numbers reflect a system called the resin identification coding system, which was created in the 80s to make it easier for people to know what to recycle and to create a uniform system for manufacturers.

Here’s what those numbers mean:

#1. Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE or PET)



The photo above — sorry it’s a bit hard to see the 1 — is a vitamin bottle of magnesium I got from a health food store. This kind of plastic is super common and is usually found in soft drink containers, beer/water bottles, oven-friendly food trays, salad dressing containers, vegetable oil containers, peanut butter containers and mouthwash bottles.

This plastic is relatively safe and holds a lot of products in your fridge or pantry. Most curbside recycling facilities will take these bottles, too! Be sure to clean them out and toss them in your recycling bin.

#2. High Density Polyethylene (HDPE)




I’m sure everybody’s got this plastic lining their small trash cans. HDPE can be found in milk jugs, shampoo bottles, cereal box liners, butter and yogurt containers, motor oil containers, shopping/trash bags and household and detergent cleaner bottles. (The second photo is of off-brand Clorox wipes).

This plastic is also considered relatively safe and can be picked up by most curbside recycling programs! Check with your local recycling program to see if they accept it.

#3. Vinyl (V or PVC)



You can find PVC in window cleaner containers, detergent bottles, piping and siding, medical equipment, wire jackets, cooking oil bottles, shampoo bottles and clear food packaging.

This plastic is not commonly curbside recyclable. This plastic can contain phthalates, which can cause hormonal and developmental problems. This plastic contains DEHA, which can be carcinogenic with long-term exposure. DEHA has also been linked to bone mass loss and liver problems. PVC should not be cooked with or burned — so don’t microwave a plate of food that is covered in plastic wrap.

#4. Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)



You can find LDPE in shopping bags, squeezable bottles, carpet, furniture, clothing, tote bags, dry cleaning bags and frozen food or bread bags.

It’s considered relatively safe, though not many recycling programs pick-up this plastic.

#5. Polypropylene (PP)



Here’s another super common plastic: PP. PP can be found in medicine bottles, straws, bottle caps, ketchup bottles, syrup bottles and yogurt containers. And, apparently, lip balm!

This plastic is another safer plastic to use and is becoming increasingly accepted in curbside recycling programs!

#6. Polystyrene (PS)



Ah, another common plastic that’s super tough to recycle: PS. PS an be found in disposable cups and plates, CD cases, aspirin bottles, carry-out containers, egg cartons and meat trays.

This plastic, also known as Styrofoam, isn’t recyclable in many places. And not many curbside recycling programs accept this plastic. Styrofoam has quite a few health risk, too, especially when burned.

#7. Miscellaneous plastics


And the rest of the plastics that don’t fit into a category fit here in number 7. Some of these plastics include nylon, food containers, signs and displays, computer and phone cases, DVDs, sunglasses, bulletproof materials and 3- and 5-gallon water bottles.

Most of these plastics are pretty harmful and have been linked to infertility and hormone problems. Polycarbonate, one of these bad boys, contains BPA (the dreaded BPA that most of you have probably heard of), which mimics estrogen and disrupts hormones.

These plastics aren’t easily recyclable or likely to be picked-up by your local recycling program.


Here are a few local townships, boroughs and cities in and around the city of Pittsburgh. I found all of this information online. Check out your town’s website for specific recycling guidelines!

  • Aliquippa — #1 + #2
  • Allegheny County — #1 + #2 (for more specific guidelines contact your borough township or city)
  • Ambridge — #1 + #2
  • Beaver— #1 + #2
  • Beaver County — #1 + #2 (for more specific guidelines contact your borough, township or city)
  • Beaver Falls — #1 + #2
  • BridgevilleΒ  — #1-#5 + #7
  • Butler County — #1 + #2 (for more specific guidelines contact your borough, township or city)
  • Cranberry Twp. — #1-#6
  • Ellwood City — #1-#7
  • Jackson Twp. — #1 + #2
  • Monroeville — #1-#7
  • Moon Twp. — #1 (but no oven-friendly food trays) + #2 (but no plastic bags)
  • New Brighton — Any plastic containers in the home should be rinsed and then placed into the recycling cart. The caps can be left on the containers. Large plastic items, like PVC pipes or Styrofoam, should not be placed in the recycling cart.
  • Pittsburgh — #1-#5 + #7
  • Richland Twp. — #1-#7
  • Shaler Twp. — #1-#6
  • Zelienople — #1 + #2


Obviously, avoiding plastic is ideal. But, that’s not always 100% feasible depending on your situation. So here’s my advice:

Be mindful about what you’re buying!

If you have to make a plastic purchase, read the bottom of it and see if it’s one of the commonly recyclable plastics listed above. If not, look online to see where you can drop off your Styrofoam or other less-recyclable products.

Stay aware!

Sometimes it’s as easy as a Google search to see what number plastics your community picks up at your curbside recycling program. If you aren’t currently recycling, check out your local waste management website and get yourself recycling! Other than limiting waste, recycling is one of the most important and easiest things we can do for our everyday health and the health of our planet!

Buy products with recycled plastic!

I have a pair of yoga pants that contain recycled water bottles and I love them! If you aren’t into buying second hand items, I’d encourage you to purchase products that are made from recycled products. It increases the demand for recycling!

American Chemistry Council
Natural Society
The Balance Small Business
Good Housekeeping

7 thoughts on “that number underneath your plastic bottle actually means something”

  1. If you want to dissolve organic materiel using hydrofluoric acid make sure you are using the low density polyethylene (#4), and not a bathtub like stupid Jesse Pinkman.


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