Plastic Codes - What do they mean?

To facilitate correct plastic waste sorting of bottles and containers commonly found in the residential waste stream for the purposes of recycling, the SPI Resin Identification Symbol System, also known as the material container coding system, was created by The Society of Plastics Industry (SPI) in 1988. At that time, the overwhelming majority of plastic packaging was made with one of six resins: polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE), high density polyethylene (HDPE), vinyl (Polyvinyl Chloride or PVC), low density polyethylene (LDPE), polypropylene (PP), or polystyrene (PS).


SPI accounts for these six plastic types, assigning each a number from 1 to 6 as a uniform, nationwide and international voluntary labeling system. SPI also includes a seventh code, identified as “7-OTHER,” to be used when the product in question is made with a plastic other than the common six, or is made of more than one plastic used in combination.  As the plastic industry has evolved, many new plastics have been invented that do not meet the specific criteria to be labeled 1 through 6. The generic SPI code “7-OTHER” applies to a number of these new plastics, including Ingeo biopolymer, as well as other bioplastics and natural plastics.

The SPI code “7-OTHER” should not be used to determine whether an article is safe or unsafe both because the code was not designed as a means for determining the particular type of plastic used to manufacture the article bearing the code.  Polycarbonate (PC) is a newer petroleum-based plastic, which also is labeled with the generic SPI code of “7-Other”.  We understand that polycarbonate may contain BPA.  Ingeo biopolymer does not contain, and has never contained, any amount of bisphenol A ("BPA").  Many articles made from Ingeo biopolymer are also labeled by their manufacturers as “PLA” “NatureWorks”, “Ingeo” or “compostable”.  These markings can be used to distinguish Ingeo™ biopolymer articles from those made of polycarbonate.

 

NEXT STEPS IN THE JOURNEY

In concert with the ASTM, interested plastics producers and stakeholders, NatureWorks is working to establish a new material identification code for Ingeo.  In the future, a unique code will improve material identification and help optimize plastics waste scenarios whether that be composting, mechanical recycling, feedstock recycling or incineration.


Want this information in a handout?  Download the Plastic Codes Guidelines.pdf (1.4MB).