Schuler says the country must work harder to get plastic pollution in our landfills and water systems, and thus reduce ambient exposure to their component chemicals. Meanwhile, people should choose alternative products, like stainless steel water bottles, glass baby bottles and other BPA-free products.

Schuler, who has authored the Smarts Plastics Guide at The Institute (updating it in September 2008) stands on the side of caution where plastics are concerned.

Decoding plastics, by the numbers

Along with switching to glass and steel products and reducing the amount of plastic disposables you buy, you can do your part to reduce plastic proliferation and leaching issues by learning which plastics are recyclable.

To do that you must know how to decode those plastic numbers on the bottom of containers, from soda and shampoo bottles to food “clamshells” and other plastic receptacles. And you may have to contact your city or waste collection service to see what plastics are being collected. Most recycle plastics #1 and #2, but some municipalities have expanded to include others.

Here’s the rundown on those triangles with tiny numbers:

# 1 — PETE: Polyethylene terephthalate ethylene, used for soft drink, juice, water, detergent, cleaner and peanut butter containers. Highly recyclable.

# 2 — HDPE: High density polyethylene, used in opaque plastic milk and water jugs, bleach, detergent and shampoo bottles, and some plastic bags. Highly recyclable.

# 3 — PVC or V: Polyvinyl chloride, used for cling wrap, plastic squeeze bottles, cooking oil and peanut butter containers, and detergent and window cleaner bottles.  According to Schuler’s Smart Guide, PVC is “The Poison Plastic,” which stands for polyvinyl chloride, also known as vinyl as well as PVC. It poses substantial risks to the environment and to humans and is considered to be the least recyclable of all the plastic containers.

# 4  — LDPE: Low density polyethylene, used in grocery store bags, most plastic wraps, Ziplock bags and some bottles.

# 5– PP: Polypropylene, used in most Rubbermaid, deli soup, syrup and yogurt and butter containers, straws and other clouded plastic containers, including baby bottles. Problematic for recyclers because it has different melting points than #1 and #2 plastics. More than any other, these butter and yogurt containers foul the stream of recyclables when people throw them in the blue bin.

# 6 — PS: Polystyrene, used in styrofoam food trays, egg cartons, disposable cups and bowls, carry-out containers and opaque plastic cutlery.

# 7 — Other: This is a catch-all category for plastics that don’t fit into the #1-6 categories. It includes polycarbonate, the plastic made with BPA and until recently used in an array of baby bottles, sport bottles and other products where makers wanted a hard, clear plastic. It remains as an ingredient in the linings of most canned food products, with the exception of some Eden brand products.
The category also includes bio-based plastics, co-polyester, acrylic, polyamide and plastic mixtures like styrene-acrylo-nitrile resin (SAN).

If no symbols are represented on packaging, call the manufacturer’s question/comment line, usually a toll-free 800 number listed on the package, to find out its components. If you can’t call, and neither symbol is present, then simply pass on the purchase — it’s better to be safe!