Make the most of waste by the Auckland Council

An insider’s guide to plastic numbers

Do you know your #4 LDPE from your #2 HDPE? No? Don’t worry – you aren’t alone. These are the numbers found in the triangle on the bottom of plastic products that can easily be mistaken for a modern hieroglyph – and equally as difficult to translate.

They are also a cause for confusion, because the triangular symbol is widely recognised as the international symbol for recycling. For most of us, use of it on a product implies that item is able to be recycled.

coffee lid.jpg

What does it mean?

To the average Joe, nothing, and they aren’t meant to. The symbols are the Resin Identification Code, which identify the plastic resin out of which the product is made. It’s a tool for manufacturers and sorters to categorise the different plastics, which have different uses – some are suitable for food products, others for containing strong chemicals.

What does it mean for recycling?

A lot of our plastic packaging is manufactured offshore and bought into New Zealand for use. Not all plastics can be recycled, including many commonly used disposable items such as takeaway coffee cups, straws and other food packaging. One of the most confusing items is the trays used for meat and vegetables. Here’s a quick lowdown on what to look for.

Common plastic items that can be recycled

  • water bottles, salad dressings, oil, cosmetics, household cleaners (#1 PET)
  • laundry detergent, milk bottles (#2 HDPE)
  • juice and milk cartons (#4 LDPE)
  • yoghurt and margarine tubs (#5 PP) 

Common plastic items that can’t be recycled (these items go to landfill. Where possible reduce your use of them and/or look for ways to reuse them

  • toys (#2 HDPE)
  • shower curtains, pool toys, inflatable toys (#3 PVC)
  • plastic shopping bags, packaging material (#4 LDPE)
  • polystyrene (foam) cups and packaging from takeaways (#6)
  • electrical wiring, CD and DVD cases (#7)

Top tips for cutting down on plastic

  • Say no to straws
  • Disposable razors - invest in one with replaceable blades (please dispose of these safely)
  • Choose reusable shopping bags (preferably made from recycled material) rather than single use plastic bags
  • Use your own coffee cup
  • Stop with the bottled water!
  • Food storage and plastic wrapping