SPI Code, Codes on plastic container

What is plastic recycling code and why it is important?

SPI code

Your plastic containers or your polybags, all are comprised of a certain resin type. This resin is what defines the physical properties of your product or maybe you can call them the building blocks of that product. Each resin belongs to a specific category which is denoted by Resin Identification Code (RIC), ranging from 1-7.

If you look onto your plastic product, you will find a number enclosed in ‘chasing arrows’, this symbol is called as SPI Symbol or SPI resin identification code. Note that, these arrows don’t denote that your material is recyclable but rather categorizes them based on their resin type. To avoid the symbol misconception, the ‘chasing arrow’ symbol was changed to a solid triangle by ASTM in 2013.

Back in 1988, The Society of Plastics Industry (SPI) developed this RIC system aiming to ease out the material sorting process. Where waste segregation calls for sorting alike materials together, these SPI codes helped to increase the efficiency of the segregation process.

Refer below for the classifications of SPI codes and what properties does each number depicts about the plastic

1. SPI Code 1 for Polyethylene terephthalate (PETE or PET)

SPI code1

PET is a commonly used clear and tough plastic. This material has good moisture barrier properties but when exposed to heat, PET possesses the risk of contaminating the products present in it. They are widely used in the manufacturing of beverage bottles, food containers, and also storage containers for other kitchen goods. PETs are easily recycled and used for the production of furniture, carpets yarn fibers, fleece jackets, sheet, and film.

2. SPI Code 2 for High-density Polyethylene (HDPE)

SPI code 2

This resin is opaque, has a high strength-density ratio, and is much stronger than PET. It is used to make milk jugs, disposal bins, park benches, agricultural pipes, shampoo bottles, and similar products. Most of the facilities recycle HDPE which is used to make plastic lumbers, bottles, flower pots, etc.

3. SPI Code 3 for Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

SPI code3

Discovered in 1838, PVC is one the oldest material used in plumbing pipes, tiles, hoses, credit cards, and in sewers. This plastic has good chemical resistance and insulation properties.

Due to its availability in various forms, highly efficient segregation is needed, making recycling of PVC very difficult to achieve.

4. SPI Code 4 for Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)

SPI code4

This resin is easy to produce but is very difficult to recycle. It is highly durable and flexible and is used in the manufacturing of plastic bags, food plastic wrap, and flexible materials like squeezable tubes and bottles. Recycled LDPE is used to make bubble wraps, furniture, liner for garbage cans, and for panels.

5. SPI Code 5 for Polypropylene (PP)

SPI code5

PP is a hard material that has good chemical and heat resistance properties. It is easy and cheap to produce and hence it is found in Tupperware, yogurt containers, auto parts. PP can be recycled but this is not widely practiced and upon recycling it’s converted to storage bins, rakes, or ice scrapers.

6. SPI Code 6 for Polystyrene (PS)

SPI code6

Styrofoam has a low melting point and has a foamy structure. Where its fabrication cost is low it is used to make egg cartons, coffee cup lids, disposable tableware, and insulation boards. PS is mostly thrown away as recycling is a challenging task that requires a lot of energy. Recycled resin is used for insulation and license plates.

7. SPI Code 7 for other plastics

SPI Code7

Plastics that do not fall into the above six categories are covered in code 7. This category includes a wide range of plastic materials like PLAs, nylon, acrylic, polycarbonates, and multilayered plastics. These plastics face difficulty in plastic recycling, though few of them are now being recycled with the help of mechanical or chemical recycling.

SPI codes are used to create awareness of plastic products to consumers. Where widely recycled resin is HDPE and PET, the rest of all types are only encountered by few facilities creating disposal of all the plastic in the landfills. We as consumers need to reduce plastic waste generation with all the methods possible.


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