One may be the loneliest number, and two may be the loneliest number since the number one, but they’re both rock star divas in recycle-land. Plastic containers and bottles labeled with these numbers are much easier for recycling plants to handle than those labeled 3,4,5,6, or 7. So the next time you find yourself cruising the aisles with your "I'm not a plastic bag" bag, like the reducing, reusing, recycling gangster that you are, look for 1s and 2s, and avoid anything in the 3-7 range.

Keep in mind, though, that no plastic is better than recyclable plastic. It's true that "plastic type 1 (PETE) can be recycled into items like carpet, auto parts, paint brushes and industrial paints," and "plastic type 2 (HDPE) is recycled into products like detergent and engine oil bottles, trash cans and recycling bins," but no plastic bottle ever came back to live its second life as another plastic bottle. So a water bottle you toss in the green bin is a bottle that won’t end up in a landfill, but it doesn’t translate to reduced use of virgin materials, and it doesn’t represent one less water bottle bought by mankind. Only buying one less water bottle in the first place can do that.

This article originally appeared in Plenty in May 2007. The story was added to

Copyright Environ Press 2007