There always seems to be some confusion when it comes to what we can and cannot recycle. Particularly troublesome are plastics because in order to be reformulated and re-used as raw material, different types of plastics require different processing. Some municipalities only accept jugs, bottles and containers with certain numbers stamped on the bottom while some accept all types of plastics for recycling.
Here are some easy tips for recycling plastics:
Doing it by the numbers! A single digit of numbers ranging from 1 to 7 and surrounded by a triangle are the symbol codes we’re most familiar with. The codes were designed in 1988 by The Society of Plastics Industry (SPI) to provide a uniform coding system for manufacturers and to differentiate types of plastics. Thirty-nine states now require the numbers that identify the type of plastic to be molded or imprinted on all eight-ounce to five-gallon containers. The symbols also help recyclers do their jobs more effectively according to the American Plastics Council.
PETE – Plastics made of polyethylene terephthalate (PETE) and assigned the number 1 are the easiest and most common plastics to recycle: medicine containers, soda and water bottles and other common consumer product containers. PETE can become fiberfill for life jackets, winter coats and sleeping bags once it has been processed by a recycling facility. PETE can also be used to make furniture, bean bags, sails for boats, rope, combs, car bumpers, tennis ball felt and of course more plastic bottles.
Heavier containers that hold laundry detergents and bleaches as well as milk, motor oil and shampoo are high-density polyethylene plastics and are reserved for the number 2 symbol. Plastics labeled with the number 2 are often recycled into rope, piping, plastic lumber and toys. Like those plastics labeled with the number 1, number 2 plastics are widely accepted at recycling centers.
Less common plastics made from polyvinyl chloride get the number 3 and include some baby bottle nipples, plastic pipes, vinyl dashboards, shower curtains and medical tubing. Due to its very low rate of recyclability, few recycling centers will accept it – this also includes Number 4 (grocery and sandwich bags, wrapping films and other containers that are made of low-density polyethylene) and Number 5 (Tupperware made with polypropylene and other products).
Items like insulation, coffee cups, packing “peanuts”, disposable cutlery and meat trays are stamped with the Number 6 and are widely accepted because they can be reprocessed into many items.
The hardest plastics to recycle are items made from combinations of the plastics above or from not commonly used or from unique plastic formulations. Most of these plastics have no labeling or they are labeled with the Number 7 because they are seldom collected or are the most difficult to recycle. If you are among the ambitious recyclers, you can return these items to the product manufacturer to place the burden on the makers to recycle or dispose of the items.
Source: The Society of Plastics Industry