Your Guide To Recycling Plastics

Your Guide To Recycling Plastics

Have you ever wondered what happens to your plastic water bottle after you throw it into the recycling bin, or whether or not that plastic wrapper you threw away was recyclable? If that’s the case, we’ve got the guide for you! This blog post will go over what plastics are actually recyclable and what happens to your used plastic after you’ve tossed it out. 

First, we’ll start with that recognizable triangle with three arrows, what does it mean and do the numbers in the middle mean anything? This symbol is called the Plastic Identification Code (PIC) and is sometimes referred to as the Resin Identification Code. In summary, each number inside the symbol explains what type of material the plastic is made of. A common misconception, that I’ve fallen prey to, is that just because a piece of plastic has this symbol it’s okay to throw in the recycle bin. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Each resin number has a likelihood to be or not be recycled, and ultimately the county or city you live in determines the extent of your recycling options. For example, plastics with PIC “1” are the most common plastics accepted by recyclers. They are light, easy to break down, and are inexpensive. Most PIC 1 plastics are found in water bottles, peanut butter-like jars, dressing containers, and beverage containers. 

In general, the higher the PIC number the harder it is for a material recovery facility (MRF) to recycle that plastic. The most frustrating point I’ve found through this research is that only PIC 1 and a little bit of 2 are actually recycled at MRFs. In some cases, throwing out the wrong plastic can contaminate a whole bid of recyclable material. The majority of plastics wishfully thrown in the recycle bin, just end up in landfills and the ocean. If you do recycle, it’s important to make sure your curbside recycler can process the plastic you throw out.

For a list of plastics containers, their chemical make-up, and their associated PIC click here. Below is a condensed list from that source:

  • Plastic Recycling Symbol #1: PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate) is the most common plastic for single-use bottled beverages because it is inexpensive, lightweight, and easy to recycle. It poses low risk of leaching breakdown products.

    • soft drinks, water, ketchup, and beer bottles; mouthwash bottles; salad dressing and vegetable oil containers

  • Plastic Recycling Symbol #2: HDPE (high density polyethylene) is a versatile plastic with many uses, especially for packaging. It carries low risk of leaching and is readily recyclable into many goods.

    • milk jugs; juice bottles; bleach, detergent, and other household cleaner bottles; shampoo bottles; some trash and shopping bags; motor oil bottles; butter and yogurt tubs; cereal box liners

  • Plastic Recycling Symbol #3: V or PVC V (vinyl) or PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is tough and weathers well, so it is commonly used for piping, siding, and similar applications. PVC is cheap, so it's found in plenty of products and packaging. Because chlorine is part of PVC, its manufacture can result in the release of highly dangerous dioxins. Also never burn PVC, because it releases toxins.

    • shampoo bottles; cooking oil bottles; blister packaging; wire jacketing; siding; windows; piping

  • Plastic Recycling Symbol #4: LDPE (low density polyethylene) is a flexible plastic with many applications. Historically it has not been accepted through most American curbside recycling programs.

    • shopping bags; tote bags; furniture (Not usually recycled) 

  • Plastic Recycling Symbols #5: PP (polypropylene) has a high melting point, and so is often chosen for containers that must accept hot liquid. It is gradually becoming more accepted by recyclers.

    • Straws, bottle caps, yogurt containers

  • Plastic Recycling Symbol #6: PS (polystyrene) can be made into rigid or foam products — in the latter case, it is popularly known as the trademark Styrofoam. Styrene monomer can leach into foods and it's a possible human carcinogen, while styrene oxide is classified as a probable carcinogen. 

    • disposable plates, egg cartons, carry-out containers

  •   Plastic Recycling Symbol #7: Miscellaneous A wide variety of plastic resins that don't fit into the previous categories are lumped into number 7. Polycarbonate is number 7 and is the hard plastic that has parents worried these days after studies have shown it can leach potential hormone disruptors. PLA (polylactic acid), which is made from plants and is carbon neutral, also falls into this category.

    •  three- and five-gallon water bottles, 'bullet-proof' materials, sunglasses, DVDs, iPod and computer cases, signs and displays, certain food containers, nylon

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