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Plastic Recycle Symbols


What type of plastics can be recycled and how?

Before we dive into the meaning of the different symbols let’s just refresh ourselves on which plastics can or can not be recycled.

In the article The FAQ’s on Plastics and Polymers we spoke about the difference between thermosets and thermoplastics. In short thermoplastics can be melted down and remoulded therefore recycled, thermosets can not.


ThermoplasticsThermoset plastics contain polymers that cross-link together during the curing process to form an irreversible chemical bond. The cross-linking process eliminates the risk of the product remelting when heat is applied.

Thermoplastics pellets soften when heated. The curing process is completely reversible because no chemical bonding takes place. This characteristic allows thermoplastics to be remoulded and recycled without negatively affecting the material’s physical properties.

The numbered symbol on the bottom of plastic goods is the polymer identification code, which is used to help sort the type of plastic a product or package is made from.

This fantastic image from SA Plastics document All About Plastics (found on their website: ) demonstrates the recycling process in a fun and easy to understand way:

SA Plastics Recycle Diagram

What do the plastic recycle symbols stand for?

Recycle Symbols

Other recycle symbols:

Other Recycle Symbols

Fashion and Recycled Plastic

It only takes 11 recycled PET bottles to create 1 pair of trousers. (4000 recycled 2litre milk bottles can create 1 park bench and 41 recycled polystyrene hamburger clamshells can make 1 plastic picture frame.)

Plastic recycle isn’t only used to recreate household and industrial items anymore. It is a growing trend within the fashion industry.

With celebrities such as Pharrell Williams, Will-i-am and Gwenth Paltro, backing designer brands that focus on using plastic recycle or other recycled products, it helps create awareness about the possibilities of recycled plastic and has given birth to a growing trend in the fashion industry to have collections made from recycled materials. (Recycled materials include plastics and other natural products such as cotton)

For example: G-Star Raw Jeans creates denim from recycled plastic salvaged from the ocean.

Another successful brand has been EcoAlf which uses discarded fishing nets, post consumer plastic bottles, worn-out tires, post-industrial cotton, and even used coffee grinds become outerwear, swimsuits, sneakers and accessories.

Credited Resources: SA Plastics:

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