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Plastic pervades our lives, and we use tons of it every year to store and stow our foods, drinks, personal care products, and medicines. There are at least 7 types of plastic you may use on a regular basis, some sturdier than others, some safer for your health or for the environment, and some you'd be better off avoiding all together.

To know which is which, you need to know the plastic recycling codes. Usually stamped on the bottom of a container, this code will clue you in to its risks and its recycling potential. So, when choosing a take-out container, water jug, or baby bottle, flip it, and check it - and, after using it, chuck it in the right place so it gets properly recycled.

Here's a run-down of all the codes, the plastics used for them, where you'll find these plastics, whether they're safe, and whether they're easy to recycle.

Print up a copy of this chart as a handy reference guide for choosing and recycling the plastics you use.


Another option is polylactide plastics (PLA). Food and beverage containers made from PLA contain converted starches from foods like corn, sugar cane, and potatoes. PLA plastics can't be recycled in the conventional way, but if you place an item in your compost heap, it will decompose in roughly 2 weeks. In comparison, most plastics take 100 years to biodegrade! And while these plastics are free from the questionable chemicals of #3, #6, and #7 plastics, it's too soon to tell if PLA is the perfect plastic.

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