Want to know more about the plastic in your home? Use this free Safe Plastic Numbers Chart to know which products are safe to reuse and which need to be tossed.
Ready to reduce your waste? Check out these favorite easy zero waste swaps or try these zero waste cleaning swaps!
Why would you want a Safe Plastic Numbers Chart?
Since plastics can leach harmful substances into our food and water and require so many resources to create them, it’s really important to rethink our relationship with plastic.
I recommend that everyone tries to reduce their plastic use as much as possible. For the items you can’t buy plastic-free, try prioritizing easier-to-recycle types of plastics.
Is it safe to reuse plastics?
So many of us like to reuse our plastics to get the most use out of them possible, but is this safe?
The answer depends on the type of plastic you want to reuse.
Fortunately, this Safe Plastic Numbers Chart makes it easy to know which plastics to avoid and which plastic items are safe to reuse or upcycle.
Since most plastic inevitably lands in the landfill, safely reusing plastics in your home is a great way to help the environment and save money.
How to know which type of plastic you have
To find out what type of plastic you are working with, look for the recycle symbol on the bottom of the package with a number in the center.
That number is the plastic resin code that tells you the type of plastic you have and if that plastic is safe for reusing.
If your container does not have a symbol, try to match it with the descriptions below.
Free Printable Safe Plastic Numbers Chart
Free Printable Safe Plastic Numbers Chart
Want to know which plastics to use and which to avoid in the future? Print out this free Safe Plastic Chart for easy reference.
Types of plastics that are safe to use
Not all types of plastic are safe to use again for things that your family may come into contact with.
Some types of plastics can release harmful chemicals or break down over time, compromising their structural integrity.
Here are some of the different types of plastics that are generally considered safe to reuse:
#1: Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE)
Examples: You’ll often see PET plastic in microwave food trays, salad dressing, juice, water, medicine bottles, peanut butter jars, and soda bottles.
Use & reuse: It is considered safe to reuse for short-term use, such as storing water, but it should not be reused for long-term use because it can harbor bacteria.
Some items made with this type of plastic work well for seed starting.
#2: High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
Examples: High density polyethylene is used in milk bottles, laundry detergent bottles, shampoo bottles, and some grocery bags.
Use & reuse: HDPE plastic is safe to reuse and recycle. Use these containers for planting, cutting down into scoops, or storing items.
This plastic does not transmit known chemicals into food or water.
Avoid using products that contained chemicals or cleaners for food products.
#4: Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
Examples: Low density polyethylene is used in plastic bags, food storage containers, bread bags, squeezable bottles, and even clothing and furniture.
Use & reuse: This plastic is considered safe for reuse.
Get creative using these items for things like storing food again, organizing your home, and even building raised garden beds.
#5: Polypropylene (PP)
Examples: You’ll often find PP in food containers, bottle caps, yogurt cups, and straws.
Use & reuse: You can reuse PP, but smaller items may require more creativity.
#7: Polycarbonate (PC)*
Examples: This plastic is just one type of plastic labeled number 7, and not all #7 plastics are safe to reuse. This type includes strong glasses, baby bottles, sports water bottles, and food storage containers.
Use & reuse: You can reuse PC plastics, but avoid using them for hot liquids or in the microwave.
The heat can break down the compounds in the plastic releasing chemicals and breaking down the structure.
*In general, most #7 plastics are not considered safe (see below). However, those marked “BPA-free” are typically regarded as safe to use.
While all plastics will break down over time, these are generally seen as safe for reuse.
- Check older reused plastics for damage with each use to prevent issues such as leaking with each use to prevent any issues.
- Staining can be a sign that the integrity of the plastic has started to break down or you may not have cleaned the container well enough to eliminate any bacteria inside fine scratches.
Types of plastics you should not use again
Some types of plastics are not safe to reuse because they can leach chemicals or break down over time.
Depending on the reuse of these plastics you may still be able to use them, though they should be left to things like art projects where the quality of the plastic will not affect your family’s health.
As they break down over time, their safety and structural integrity can be compromised. Here are some examples of plastics that are generally not considered safe to reuse:
Fortunately, I find it rather easy to avoid these types of plastics. Focus on avoiding styrofoam, plastic films, BPA, and foams.
#6: Polystyrene (PS or Styrofoam)
Examples: Polystyrene foam is used in disposable plates, cups, and takeout containers.
Use & reuse: It can release toxic chemicals when heated and is not safe for reuse. Try to avoid these completely as they have been proven to leach known toxic chemicals into food.
Instead opt for reusable plastic containers, glass, or paper containers even if it means for bringing them from home for leftovers.
#3: Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
Examples: You’ll find PVC products in plastic pipes, some food packaging, food wraps, cling wrap, and some shower curtains.
Use & reuse: It can release toxic chemicals and is not safe for reuse, especially if the plastic is heated in any way.
See my favorite plastic wrap alternatives to ditch this type of plastic as much as possible.
#7: Polycarbonate (PC) with Bisphenol A (BPA)
Examples: Look for PC with BPA in some baby bottles, sports water bottles, and food storage containers.
Use & reuse: BPA is an endocrine disruptor that can leach into food and liquids, especially when heated or exposed to acidic substances.
More and more companies are starting to switch away from this harmful plastic option. BPA-free polycarbonate is considered safe for reuse.
Personally, I try to avoid #7 plastics completely.
#7: Polyurethane (PU)
Examples: This is used in foam cushions, some yoga mats, and some furniture.
Use & reuse: It can release toxic chemicals and is unsafe for reuse in anything that will be used for food or gardening.
If you want to reuse things like yoga mats, they make great insulation for windows for the winter.
Other plastics with recycling codes 3, 6, and 7:
These plastics can contain other potentially harmful chemicals, such as phthalates, styrene, and polycarbonate with BPA. These plastics are generally not considered safe for reuse.
There are many more plastics with these numbers on the market. You can use these codes to tell you what should not be reused for your family’s health.
It is important to note that while some plastics may be labeled as “microwave-safe” or “dishwasher-safe,” this does not necessarily mean they are safe for repeated reuse for food contact.
All plastic containers can degrade over time and may become less safe to use, especially if scratched or damaged.
Always inspect plastic containers for damage and to properly clean them before reuse because of the fact that some can hold onto harmful bacteria.
Which types of plastic are safe for food?
According to the FDA, these are safe food grade plastics:
- HDPE #2
- LDPE #3
- PC #7
- PET #1
- PP #5
Personally, I’m a little more stringent than that. I prefer to use glass food storage containers as much as possible to reduce my exposure to plastics.
I try to avoid plastics as much as possible unless they are type #1 or #2. These plastics are the safest to use and have a higher likelihood of being recycled (source).
Unfortunately, it’s pretty impossible to avoid plastics completely. There are some items you just can’t buy without packaging and the majority of the plastic I use comes from food packaging.
Easy Ways to Repurpose Plastics
Since so much of that packaging isn’t #1 or #2, what do you do with the rest of it?
- Use for the same purpose (refill your honey bottle at the bulk store)
- Use for general storage (plastic film bags are great for storing odds and ends or for wrapping a sandwich)
- Condiment bottles are great for holding DIY cleaners or paint
- Yogurt containers are perfect for holding utensils or storing nails and screws
- Consider building plastic bricks to repurpose plastic water bottles and food wrappers
Which types of plastic are the easiest to recycle?
Since only 9% of plastics produced are ever recycled, most plastics are not recycled even if they are technically recyclable (source).
Of the plastics that do get recycled:
- 29.1% are PET bottles & jars
- 29.3% are HDPE bottles
Your local recycling facility may have different statistics than this. Take some time to learn what can be recycled in your area and what condition the plastics need to be in.
For example, most plastic needs to be fully cleaned and dried to be recycled. If you toss a dirty piece of plastic wrap in your recycling, it can actually wreak havoc on the machines at the processing facility.
Dirty plastics will contaminate other recyclables, causing the whole lot to be left behind.
Tips for making the most of plastic waste
- Print the Safe Plastic Numbers Chart for easy referencing
- Try to purchase only types #1 and #2 when necessary
- Visit your local bulk store to refill your old containers
- Avoid reheating any foods in plastic
- Wash & dry recyclable plastics
- Learn what your local recycling facility can take
- Dispose of non-recyclable plastics properly (based on your local area)
- Find ways to upcycle or reuse safe plastics when possible
- Prioritize glass, paper, or metal packaging over plastic when at all possible
- Bring your own grocery store bags
- Purchase reusable products instead of disposables (water bottles, silicone bags, etc)
- Make your own condiments and sauces to limit the bottles
- Switch to plastic wrap alternatives
If you love this Safe Plastic Numbers Chart, you’ll enjoy these other sustainable living resources:
Is this Safe Plastic Numbers Chart helpful?
I’d love to hear if this resource is helpful or if you have further questions! Please share your thoughts below.