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What Is The Triangular Recycling Symbol Found at the Bottom of Plastic Products?

Updated: Sep 11, 2020

If you check the bottom of almost any plastic bottle or container product you will see a small number marking there inside a three-arrow triangle symbol. This number identifies what type of resin plastic material that product is made of.

In 1988, the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) established a classification system to help consumers and recyclers in the sorting, processing and disposing of plastic materials. Each recycling number, also called SPI Code tells us the chemical make up of the product.

We should not mix different types of foam together as each one needs to be recycled separately, in different machines. That is the reason why we should pay attention to that little triangular sign (the PSI Code), as it is guidance to us and to recyclers.

All recycling numbers inside the arrow symbol go from 1 to 7.

Foam #1 is mostly bottles, water, soda and oil bottles. Those materials after recycled are used to make tote bags, carpets, fiberfill material in winter clothes and more.

Foam #2 is laundry and dish detergents, soap bottles, milk and shampoo bottles, as well as grocery bags and toys. Recycled foam #2 is used to make plastic crates, plastic lumber, fences and more.

Foam #3 is commonly found in plumbing pipes, shower curtains, medical tubes and seat covers. Once recycled it is used to make flooring, mobile home skirting and other industrial items.

Foam #4 includes grocery and sandwich bags, wrapping films, squeezable bottles. Once recycled it is used for making garbage cans, lumber, furniture and other house items.

Foam #5 is mostly Tupperware, yogurt containers, ketchup bottles, syrup bottles and prescription bottles, and plastic cap of soda bottles. After being recycled, these items are used for making ice scrapers, rakes, battery cables and other durable items.

Foam #7 is any other recyclable material that is a combination of 1-6, less commonly used. For ex: baby bottles, compact discs and medical storage containers.

All polystyrene based products are classified as resin plastic, also known as foam #6. It is also known by its trademark name Styrofoam, and includes a large variety of products.

Here is what foam #6 includes:

Foam cups and food service products

Under this category we can find drinking cups, food trays and food containers. This is the material of choice for food take-out and fast food due to its lightweight, its great insulation properties being able to maintain temperatures and being an inexpensive material.

Foam packing peanuts

These peanuts keep shipped items from shifting or breaking. Most curbside programs will not recycle nor accept foam peanuts, but they can be reused.

Foam packaging

This type of Styrofoam is used for shipping electronics, furniture and any fragile material. The packaging foam offers protection and insulation. It's lightweight and helps reduce shipping costs and its excellent cushioning properties result in less breakage.

Foam medical coolers

The EPS medical coolers are used to keep vaccines and medicines at critical temperatures when they are shipped to hospitals, clinics, medical facilities and doctor's offices.

Wine and food Coolers

EPS foam #6 is also used to transport wine and food, such as fish and meat. The wine coolers for instance can carry several bottles at the same time, while offering temperature insulation as well as protecting the bottles.

Foam #6 can be recycled over and over again. It can be melted, shredded or condensed. Recycling the foam will reduce its volume by more than 90% its original size. For example, imagine 40,000lbs of Styrofoam material fitting into a 48' trailer after being recycled. But why should we recycle?

Foam has real value once it has been recycled. The compacted, condensed, densified or melted foam can be further sold to other companies willing to pay well for it. They will mix the recycled foam with other materials making it a new product. For ex, it can be mixed with concrete making building blocks that are strong enough, yet cheaper than regular building blocks. They can also make a great insulation material for building and construction. It is also used for making architectural moldings, picture frames, pony packs for holding plants and more.

Recycling foam is now easier than ever, with new and efficient recycling equipment. There is no need to throw away the foam in landfills, taking up so much space.

By recycling Styrofoam we keep the Earth green and help the environment. We reduce the need to collect oil from the earth and we conserve the energy.


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