By: Rich Gately
So do you recycle? That is awesome! Hopefully more people will join you on the bandwagon and get their recycling on, too.
It’s true the weak economy has hurt recycling markets just like it has every industry, but things will turn around. And it’s still true that remaking things uses much less energy and resources than fashioning virgin materials into new toys, utensils, cars and houses. But even the most well-meaning greenies can get confused by the different rules that govern plastic recycling. Policies vary according to state, town and recycler, and guidelines can change at any time, so the best advice is to occasionally check with your local service, and ask to stay updated.
In order to make it easier, the vast majority of plastic products are now stamped with a code, which indicates the primary type of resin they are made of. (However, don’t assume that a number in a recycling “chasing arrows” symbol means the item was made of recycled plastic—that’s not necessarily the case.) The presence of a code doesn’t always mean you can find a local recycler. But here’s a handy guide to help you get started:
- Number 1 Plastics
PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate)
Found in: Bottles for water, soft drinks, mouthwash, peanut butter, salad dressing and vegetable oil, as well as food trays.
Recycling: Picked up by most curbside recycling programs.
Recycled into: Fleece and other fibers, tote bags, furniture, carpet, paneling.
PET is lightweight and easy to recycle, and it poses a low risk of leaching toxic chemicals into contents.
- Number 2 Plastics
HDPE (high density polyethylene)
Found in: Bottles for milk, juice, bleach, detergent, shampoo and motor oil, as well as tubs for butter and yogurt. Also used in some bags.
Recycling: Picked up through most curbside recycling programs, although some allow only those containers with necks, which has to do with the length of the constituent polymers.
Recycled into: Bottles, pens, bins, tile, drainage pipe, lumber.
HDPE is also relatively easy to recycle and carries a low risk of leaching.
- Number 3 Plastics
V (Vinyl) or PVC (polyvinylchloride)
Found in: Bottles for window cleaner, detergent, shampoo and cooking oil, as well as certain electronic and medical equipment. Also used in building materials like siding, windows and piping.
Recycling: Rarely recycled; accepted by some plastic lumber makers.
Recycled into: Decks, paneling, gutters, flooring, cables, mats.
PVC contains chlorine, so factories that make it can release highly toxic dioxins. That strong smell coming off PVC shower curtains and from new cars can be toxic as well, so many concerned parents try to avoid it.
- Number 4 Plastics
LDPE (low density polyethylene)
Found in: Squeezable bottles; bread, frozen food, dry cleaning and shopping bags; clothing; furniture; carpet.
Recycling: LDPE is not often recycled through curbside programs, but some communities will accept it.
Recycled into: Trash can liners and cans, compost bins, envelopes, paneling, lumber, landscaping ties, floor tile.
LDPE has many uses, and it is gradually getting easier to recycle.
- Number 5 Plastics
Found in: Some yogurt containers, syrup and ketchup bottles, many caps, straws, medicine bottles.
Recycling: Number 5 plastics can be recycled through some curbside programs.
Recycled into: Signal lights, battery cables, brooms, brushes, auto battery cases, ice scrapers, landscape borders, bicycle racks, bins, pallets, trays.
Polypropylene has a high melting point, so is often chosen to contain hot materials. It is thought to pose low risk of leaching.
- Number 6 Plastics
Found in: Disposable plates and cups, meat trays, egg cartons, carry-out containers, compact disc cases.
Recycling: Number 6 plastics can be recycled through some curbside programs.
Recycled into: Insulation, egg cartons, vents, rulers, foam packing, carry-out containers.
Polystyrene can be rigid or foam. Unfortunately, it can also leach toxins into foods or drinks. As most consumers know, it is rarely recycled.
- Number 7 Plastics
Found in: Large water containers, bullet-proof materials, DVDs, iPods, signs, food containers, nylon.
Recycling: Not usually recycled.
Recycled into: Plastic lumber, custom products.
Any plastics that don’t fit into other categories are grouped into number 7, including compostable plastics made from corn or other plants (which are safe and green!).
The most controversial is polycarbonate, the hard plastic of Nalgene and baby bottles that has been shown to leach the hormone disruptor Bisphenol A (BPA).
Compostable plastics are easy to dispose of, but the rest can be tricky…
Plastic is not entirely the “enemy” many things in the medical field need to be made of plastic because of it’s flexability and it’s low rejection rate (like artificial shunts, stints and hearts)
ALL plastics are recyclable some are harder to recycle than others, but they all can be recycled. I hear many folks saying, “plastics are bad”, plastics are not bad it’s the people that do not recycle them that is bad. It’s kind of like saying “spoons made me fat”. If we recycled all of our plastics we would not have to make new plastic from oil for several decades or more!
I’m sure it seems funny that a “green” person like myself would be advocating plastic’s, but it is more advocating the recycling of plastics!!
I urge you to recycle all of your plastic! It will make a huge difference in the future.
Peace and Prosperity,
Rich @ NY Homesteader