Different recycling numbers refer to different materials used to make items. They are designated differently because they are different types of plastic and therefore need to be recycled separately. It might be possible in some cases to reduce the different kinds of plastic we use, but in most cases the kind we use is whatever is the most appropriate for the object in question. For example, it doesn’t make sense for a plastic bag and a bleach container to be made the same way. The citation link has a nice list of what number signifies what kind of material.
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