August 4, 2020 – By Fawn Organics
It’s no surprise the answer to this question remains confusing for even the most hardcore of recyclers. The short answer is, at once, yes, no, and sometimes.
Like me, you’ve probably heard that plastics with a number on the bottom are all recyclable in some way and the lids were the bad guys because they didn’t have a number. Unfortunately, the reality is a bit more complicated and is dependent on many variables. These numbers are the Resin Identification Codes and indicate the type of plastic resin a product is made from. www.greenmatters.com/renewables/2018/09/13/ZG59GA/plastic-recycling-numbers-resin-codes This number system was developed in the 1980’s, and while consumers have come to depend on these numbers to navigate the do’s and don’ts of recycling, the system was actually designed to help the recycling facilities and not the consumer https://apps.npr.org/plastics-recycling/
WHICH PLASTICS CAN BE RECYCLED?
Most plastic containers will be #1 and #2. The easiest and most common plastics to recycle are made of Polyethyleneterephthalate (PET). These are assigned to #1 and include soda and water bottles. This group is also considered safe for reuse. Only about 1/3 of plastic bottles end up recycled. High density polyethylene (HDPE) is a stiff plastic considered both recyclable and reusable. Milk jugs, detergent, oil bottles, toys, and some plastic bags are examples of #2, and in some cases, also #1. These items can be recycled at most facilities. Sadly, a significant number of these items end also up in landfills despite their recycle status.
WHICH PLASTICS CAN SOMETIMES BE RECYCLED? Low density polyethylene (LDPE) #4 consists largely of plastic
wrappings. These include some grocery bags, bread bags and newspaper bags, among others. Polypropylene (PP) #5 items include food containers like those used for yoghurt and, frozen food, sour cream, microwavable trays, frozen food These guys can also be re-used. Grocery stores may also take their plastic bags back for recycling. Some facilities also accept items like bottle caps and carpet. Recycling items in these categories are very dependent on the facility’s available technology.
WHICH PLASTICS ARE NOT RECYCLABLE?
The plastics Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) #3, can’t be recycled, and Polystyrene #6, can sometimes be recycled. Polystyrene (foam) items include meat packaging, egg cartons, and take-out boxes. The chemicals in Polystyrene is so toxic that their use has been outright banned in dozens of cities throughout the U.S. Stick with cardboard cartons.
The list also includes a mixed bag category of plastics, #7. These are items, in any category, that may contain hazardous byproducts, such as, BPA and BPS. You may recognize these as plastic bottles, vinyl flooring, and Styrofoam (Polystyrene). Plastics in these categories cannot usually be recycled and therefore end up in landfills happily leaching their toxic chemicals into groundwater, waterways, soil, and air, for all eternity. That said, some of the more industrious recycling centers have advanced technology capable of turning, #6, and #7 into other useful items, like Styrofoam egg cartons. Which we’re not using. Right?
The only way to know what you can and can’t recycle is to go straight to the horse’s mouth. Your local recycling facility.
Recycling is very technology dependent and each facility is run differently and with equipment specific to its function. We are often frustrated with the limited list of acceptable items. We want to do more. But unlisted items can easily break this equipment.
Recycling facilities are also influenced by the ups and downs of the commodities market. For example, in 2018, China ended taking plastic waste from the U.S. So now the entire industrial chain is under pressure to find a solution. One positive development resulting from this situation is the call for the reduction of packaging and replacing disposables with reusables. https://apps.npr.org/plastics-recycling/. This sounds like a very achievable, although partial, solution.
For those items hard to recycle, you can send your waste to TerraCycle, which offers free nationwide recycling programs that address unconventional waste. This company, founded in 2001 turns items into raw materials to sell to factories, who, in turn, make new products https://www.terracycle.com/en-US/