The Society of the Plastics Industry has introduced this numbering system, which is called the Plastic Identification Code (or PIC). The PIC system assigns different numbers to different types of plastics depending on their chemical composition and associated properties. For example, polyethylene terephthalate (PET; PETE) gets a code of 1. PET has a “clear and optically smooth” surface. High-density polyethylene (HDPE), on the other hand, gets a code of 2. This type of plastic has a “[r]elatively stiff material”.
(Additional citation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plastic_recycling)
There are 7 different numbers assigned to plastic, one for each of the 7 different types of plastic available for use. Each number is assigned as a way to identify which type of plastic the product was made out of. This is used to help determine which plastics are recyclable, and to help the consumer determine which plastics are safe. In general, those labeled #2 (high density polyethylene: milk jugs, juice bottles), #4 (low density polyethylene: grocery bags, bread bags), and #5 (polypropylene: yogurt cups, medicine bottles) are considered safe. Similarly, only about half of the numbers are accepted by most recycling programs, making many non-recyclable.
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