Plastic Recycling Code Explained

Please be advised that the coding on plastic products can be a bit misleading

If you are like many of us, when trying to determine whether to recycle something or throw it in the trash, you look for the “chasing arrows” or recycle symbol.   You may find the symbol on paper, glass, metals, and plastics. When dealing with plastics, many of them carry the symbol with a number inside. 

For years, curbside programs relied on these numbers to determine recyclability.  Unfortunately, as we see record high contamination rates, that symbol doesn’t always mean an item can go into your recycling bin at home. These numbers, or codes, represent the type of plastic (resin) the item is made from. 

In 1988, the US Society of Plastics Industry introduced the Resin Identification Code system and started labeling plastic material.  They adopted the same “chasing arrows” that are associated with recycling.  As you can imagine, this has created confusion for consumers who think the resin code is the universal symbol for recycling. In recent years, the Resin Identification Codes (RIC) has been changed to a solid triangle to eliminate confusion, but the damage is done.  

Sorting facilities across the country are experiencing high contamination levels because they receive many items that carry this symbol but aren’t part of the curbside program.  High contamination levels slow the sorting process, increase costs and can ruin good material.

  1. # 1
  2. # 2
  3. #3
  4. # 4
  5. # 5
  6. # 6
  7. # 7

#1 represents PolyRICS CODE 1ethylene Terephthalate (PETE) and is the material used for plastic drinks bottles. This can go into your curbside recycling.

Remember all plastic tubs, jugs, and bottles should be empty before placing them in your recycling bin.  Lids are too small to recycle by themselves so put them back on the empty containers to ensure they are recycled.

If you still wish to use the RIC code for your sorting your recycling, the City of Manassas accepts plastic bottles and containers (such as tubs with lids #1, #2, and #5) and clean rigid/hard plastics for recycling. Download your own copy of the RICS Code by clicking here.

The City does NOT accept: #3, #4, #6 or #7.