Posted by: soapchix | March 5, 2008

The Fascinating World of Resin and Recycle Codes on Plastic Containers.

On cans and jars, there is a little triangle made of arrows, and in the middle of the triangle there is a number. The triangle of arrows is the recycle symbol, and the number inside it is the resin code for the plastic. Up until I started packaging my own products, I paid very little attention to these numbers. I simply assumed plastic was….well, plastic, and tossed it into the recycle bin without further thought.

Then I started researching what bottles and jars our scrubs, shea, and oils would be packaged into. I was overwhelmed with all the different kinds of plastic there are out there: PET, HDPE, LDPE, PP, PVC and PS just to name a few. Each type of plastic is labeled with it’s own resin code inside the recycle symbol. Each number is sorted into same resin codes and then recycled together–the different numbers cannot be recycled together or with anything else. Here is a list of what the numbers mean:

According to The Straight Dope, Types 1 and 2 are commonly recycled (27% and 7% respectively). Types 3-6 have a 1% recycle rate, and because it is a mix of different types of plastic, NONE of Type 7 is recycled and it all ends up going straight in a landfill. In fact, many people feel that putting a recycle symbol around the numbers leads people to believe it’s all being recycled, when in fact a very little is.

In addition to having recycling implications, the resin code also can imply what chemicals are used to form the plastic. Choose plastics with the recycling code 1, 2 or 5, because recycling (resin) codes 3 and 7 are more likely to contain phthalates and bisphenol-a (another known endocrine disruptor).

Because I’m in the habit of checking labels for my cosmetics, I’ve also started looking at my food bottles to see what resin code things are made out of. SafeMama checked and found resin number 7 on her Gerber baby food container. In her case, it ended up being 7 because it was a mix of 1 & 2 resins, not because it contained BPA or phthalates.

I found something different when I looked on my plastic bottle of Dole Peaches. I found resin code 7, and when I emailed them for the reason it was that particular code they emailed me back a preemptive answer about BPA’s.

“Thank you for contacting us.

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a substance used in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastics and the production of tin can epoxy resin sealants and coatings. These resins are inert materials used as protective liners in metal cans to maintain the quality of canned foods and beverages.

The use of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins in food packaging, including those made with BPA, has been and continues to be recognized as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the European Commission Scientific Committee on Foods, the United Kingdom Food Standards Agency, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare and other regulatory agencies throughout the world. These materials have been approved by the U.S. FDA and for more than 40 years have been a part of food preservation. The FDA has found these materials to be safe and pose no risk to consumers.”

Well, with all due respect, here are dozens of articles that disagree with you, Dole. SafeMama also writes a lot of things about BPA as does the Soft Landing.

So, let’s look at those codes with the resin numbers highlighted that have the lowest risk of leaching chemicals into surrounding food/liquid/cosmetics. The numbers that aren’t highlighted have a greater leaching probability, with resin code 7 having the highest risk.
(Click to enlarge)

Not only is the resin/recycle code 7 not recycled, but it also has the highest risk of leaching endocrine disruptors. So, just like I avoid fragrance oils, I now also avoid resin/recycle codes 3,6 & 7 as much as possible. Not only for the chemical leaching, but also because they are not as recycled as number 1 & 2 are.

Here at Serendipity Bath Co. we use HDPE bottles (resin code 2) in all our packaging.

We also are loads of fun, all this doom and gloom about phthalates, endocrine disruptors, and recycle codes notwithstanding. In fact, we have some fun things in store for the upcoming weeks! Tutorials! Contest! Fun Pictures!

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  1. Great post! I just recently emailed Orab-B and my water delivery company for the same explanation and was told to call. I assume, when companies don’t jump up and down to tell me their 7 resins are BPA Free that the news is likely not good.

  2. Nice post clearly explaining about the types of recyclable plastic available. I will be looking for these special symbols next time I reach out for the plastic bottle. Plastic bottle recycling is the best way to reduce toxic pollution.

  3. Something I don’t understand is why is it that 1 and 2 are part of recycling programs? Is it simply becuase of the volume of that particular type of plastic?

  4. Great post! Thanks for doing it! I like how Dole danced around your question …figures. Anyway, thats crazy about the 7s when they are probably the most used plastics in the consumer world! hrrm Oh well, I do my best anyway. Thanks again!

  5. […] Really, to limit exposure there’s just one main thing to look for on whatever item you are buying…CHECK THE RESIN (or recycle) CODE! […]

  6. i’ve been using the NALGENE sport water bottle for
    about 3 years just found out it was a 7 and
    i didn’t hear about the scaryness of it until today
    and it says it’s even worse when you
    put hot water into it… WELL darn
    cause i do that almost everyday
    i found another water bottle
    it’s a 2.. can they be re used though, over and over again?

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  8. came across this on a google search-very informative! many thanks! (a few months late, but…)

    i’m curious to your reasons on not using fragrance oils-i’ve never heard anything about them and use them as opposed to regular perfumes.

  9. Hi Rachel!

    Fragrance oils and perfumes are similar in their composition…meaning, they are made with chemicals such as phthalates. This is in contrast to essential oils that are distilled from natural compounds to form a scent.

    There ARE fragrance oils available without phthalates, which will specifically say that. We have found a few to use in our products, but currently our essential oil products outsell them by 10 to 1!

  10. what would 22 inside the triangle mean?

  11. Ummm . . . recycle code 1 has a “risk of leaching chemicals into surrounding food/liquid/cosmetics.”

    Our water bottles and our sports drinks and our sodas come packed in bottles with a recycle code 1. I find these make nice reusable containers for liquids, so that you can take your water to the family room and not worry about a glass being knocked over.

    I have seen concerns about 3,6 & 7 for leeching elsewhere, but where did you dig that concern up about code 1?

  12. Hi Jericho.

    In the post, I wrote, “Choose plastics with the recycling code 1, 2 or 5, because recycling (resin) codes 3 and 7 are more likely to contain phthalates and bisphenol-a (another known endocrine disruptor).” So I’m not sure where you are referring to about avoiding code 1. As it is the most recycled and has a lower risk of chemical leeching, I’m less concerned with it than I am a code 7, for sure!

  13. Starbucks is selling drinks tumbers that have a plastic lid and inner. It is indicated as recycle code #7. I called Starbucks and they told me the inner plastics are TPE (Thermal Plastic Elastomers). Does anyone have any info on the use of TPE plastic with hot liquids? Searching the web, I mostly find reference to golf club handles.

  14. to worried: the new nalgene bottles advertise they are BPA free so you may wish to use them.

    to soapchix: Your text encourages the use of recycle code 1 but your chart does not highlight it indicating that it leaches chemicals, which is correct?

    Your text seems to avoid discussion of code 4, but your chart highlights it as a good plastic, is it?

    Did you perhaps mean to highlight 1, 2 & 5 or does 1 leach chemicals but not BPA’s?

  15. thanks a bunch!!! this helped me a lot with my science home work!!!!!!!!!

  16. […] current resin recycling code is 23 years old and due to be either updated or at least amended next year by ASTM International […]

  17. Hey really nice post I loved it.

    Now I own a plastics recycling company (which only recycles 1, 2, 4 and 5 resins), and I will tell u about the percentages on recycling.

    Resins 1 and 2 are mostly recycled because of which products they make from them. As you stated resin code 1 or PET are mostly used on bottled water or flexible hot resistant bottles, they are highly recycled due the fact that there are millions of bottles of that kind in the country so, a lot ot people recycle them. Now they ar recycled and reused on OTHER NON HUMAN USAGE products. Like oil containers and such.

    Why does resin code 2 and 5 are less recycled, well they are recycled a lot, but they are transformed into other products which we don’t use directly. HDPE resin code 2 and LDPE resin code 4 are mainly used for tools, isolating plastics, coatings and such. And are not used by us with food or liquids we consume. They are also used to create crates, toolboxes, etc.

    Recycle code 5 can be reused for containers which also will held other non human consuming products. But they are mainly transformed into “Engineering plastics” which we can find in our cars, machinery parts and such. This platics are mostly stiff and heat resistant. They are changed into PSA or ABS. Which are not for human consumption or such. Hope it helps and I loved your post have a nice day and let’s continue being green :D

  18. This is the IMPORTANT PART.
    Under what conditions do the rated plastics leach?
    From what I can tell it’s usually under microwave conditions or high UV rays. So if your bottle sits in the fridge most the time your ok? I guess it is the safer option.
    And don’t put your water containers on the window sill or sitting in your car. I would think some common sense in most areas would keep you in a safe environment. We need to address the issues of the conditions of each rating or there will be panic for nothing???

  19. […] current resin recycling code is 23 years old and due to be either updated or at least amended next year by ASTM International […]

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