When you buy items, do you ever check the labels to see how they could affect you or the environment? “Going green” has swept the world, bringing changes to how people view and use everyday products – from food packaging to other consumer items. The idea is to make sure the everything you use can have less impact on the environment and human health — and can be disposed of in an environmentally friendly way.

Some items now include labels showing how they can be recycled. One example is plastic materials. The use of arrows as symbols on plastic packaging and products does not mean that the product is easily recyclable. Within each chasing arrows triangle, there is a number, usually from 1 to 7. The number indicates the type of plastic used and if the product is re-usable or recyclable.  Plastic recycling symbols

A plastic container with 1 inside the chasing arrows triangle is made of PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate), found in water bottles and most packaging. This packaging is for single use applications as repeated use can cause the spread of harmful bacteria. PET plastic is recyclable.

Another popular material is HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) with a number 2 inside the chasing arrow triangle. HDPE plastic is for milk jugs, shampoo, detergent and oil bottles, toys, and some plastic bags. It is the most commonly recycled material and one of the safest forms of plastic.

PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) with #3 is a soft plastic material used for making clear food packaging, children’s toys, blister packaging and sheathing materials. It is not recyclable and should not be re-used.

Number 4 is inside LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene), which is found in shrink wraps, garment bags, and even plastic bags for bread, as well as some household items. Less toxic than other plastics, LDPE is not usually recycled.

Number 5 is PP (Polypropylene), a plastic that is lightweight but tough. It is usually used for the packaging of cereals and to keep some food products fresh. PP is recyclable and recycled PP is used for making household products. PS (Polystyrene) has #6. It is lightweight and flexible plastic used for many purposes, such as styrofoam drinking cups, take-out food containers, foam packaging and shipping boxes. It breaks up easily and said to release a possible human carcinogen. PS is not recyclable and makes up about one-third of landfill material.

Other plastic materials fall under #7 and these include the new materials like BPA and Polycarbonate (PC), used for making sippy cups, water cooler bottles, and even car parts. New bio-based plastics also fall under this category. The plastics in this category are not for re-use unless they are “compostable.”