Guess What? A Number in a Triangle Does NOT Mean It's Recyclable

Guess What? A Number in a Triangle Does NOT Mean It’s Recyclable

Elephant made from plastic bottles. Concept of how to make useful and beautiful things from garbage

  • Editor’s Note: I think this is one of Jennifer Jarland’s best recycling tips yet, because it addresses the elephant in the room. (See illustration, above.) Most of us go around thinking that we can recycle anything with a numbered recycling symbol. It just ain’t so.
  • Editor’s Note #2: This article was written by Kane County Recycling Coordinator Jennifer Jarland. You can reach her at 630-208-3841 or
  • (SIDE NOTE TO LOCAL MEDIA: Please feel free to recycle this article.)

Plastic is an almost unavoidable part of our daily lives. So many things are made of plastic, and there are many different kinds of plastic. Not all of these plastic items are recyclable. In fact, few are, and it is best to avoid plastic packaging wherever possible.

When recycling plastics, the rule of thumb is bottles, tubs, jugs and jars only. Here are some answers to other frequently asked recycling questions:

resin codes poster

If my plastic container has a triangle with a number in it, I can recycle it, right?

The biggest point of confusion in recycling might be that triangle with the number in it. That symbol can be found on most plastics, and you would think that means that it’s recyclable.

Actually, it doesn’t!

In the plastics industry, that little triangle is known simply as the “resin stamp,” a marking plastics manufacturers use to indicate the type of plastic it is.

Unfortunately, even though it is printed in a chasing-arrows symbol, this stamp does not mean that the plastic item is recyclable in any given program. It only tells you what it is made out of. Efforts are being made to change this faulty labeling symbol.

So, how do I know what plastics I can recycle?

The advice I often give is to forget the number. The sort-ability and recycle-ability of plastic is based on its shape. Plastic bottles, tubs, jugs and jars (and buckets with the handles removed) are all recyclable.

There are many plastic items that are NOT recyclable in the curbside cart, like plastic bags, plastic packaging of any kind, black plastic, plastic plates, plastic utensils, cups, trays, hoses, toys and lawn chairs, chip packages, candy wrappers — the list goes on and on. Basically any other plastic product that is not a bottle, tub, jug or jar should please NOT be placed in your curbside recycling container.

Why should I care?

It is important to only put the acceptable recyclable plastic items into the recycling cart because the sorting facilities are overwhelmed with a lot of plastic trash that is not recyclable and for which they have do not have an end market.

Non-recyclable plastic items are as bad as plastic bags at the sorting facilities. If the non-acceptable items are placed in the recycling they cause hold ups during the sorting process (as there is so much that must be manually pulled out and sent down the trash chute) and they cause problems in the down stream re-manufacturing processes (where they cause contamination and lower commodity values).

Please see this great video on recycling, from collection at the curb and how it is sorted to the re-manufacturing process for each material.

A reminder from the last recycling tip

Please do not put your recyclable materials in plastic bags inside of the recycling bin. Please empty all recyclable items – loose — into the collection bin and do not put any plastic bags into the recycling. And remember that clean, dry, and empty plastic bags are recyclable at grocery stores!

When you follow the recycling guidelines you are helping to keep the program successful. Please refer to the Recycling Guidelines on the Kane County Recycles website for a more detailed list of what is and what is not recyclable in your curbside cart.

Thanks for all that you do to Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle!

Read More Recycling Tips!