Recycling plastic waste is extremely important for reducing pollution and conserving natural resources. However, the recycling process can seem complicated. This article will provide an in-depth guide on how to properly recycle various types of plastic so you can make a meaningful impact.
Understanding Plastic Identification Codes
The first step to recycling plastic is learning how to identify the different types of plastic using the resin identification codes. This numeric coding system categorizes plastics by the type of resin they are made from.
The 7 Main Plastic Resin Codes
There are 7 common plastic resin codes to be aware of when sorting your recyclables:
- #1 PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) – Commonly used for water bottles, soda bottles
- #2 HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) – Commonly used for milk jugs, laundry detergent bottles
- #3 PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) – Commonly used for plastic pipes, food wrapping
- #4 LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene) – Commonly used for shopping bags, squeeze bottles
- #5 PP (Polypropylene) – Commonly used for yogurt containers, medicine bottles
- #6 PS (Polystyrene) – Commonly used for disposable cups, takeout containers
- #7 Other (BPA, Polycarbonate) – Commonly used for sunglasses, CDs, DVDs
Look for these resin code numbers enclosed in the universal recycling symbol on plastic items. This will indicate what type of plastic it’s made from.
Checking if Your Plastic is Recyclable
Once you’ve identified the resin code, the next step is verifying whether your local recycling facility accepts that plastic type.
Refer to Your Local Recycling Guidelines
Every municipality has different guidelines about what plastics they accept. Check your local recycling website or contact your waste management company to learn what plastics can be recycled in your curbside bin.
For example, many curbside programs recycle PET (#1) and HDPE (#2) bottles and jugs but do not take clamshell food containers (#6 PS) or plastic bags (#4 LDPE). Make sure you know what your recycling provider accepts before tossing items in your bin.
Consider Third Party Recyclers
Some plastic types like PVC (#3), PS (#6), and Other (#7) may not be accepted by curbside recycling but can still be recyclable through special programs. Many communities have drop-off locations that recycle these hard-to-recycle plastics.
You can also mail certain plastics like plastic bags (#4 LDPE) to third party processors such as Trex. Do some research to find out if there are convenient recycling options in your area for plastics not collected curbside.
Properly Preparing Plastics for Recycling
To avoid contamination and ensure your plastics get recycled, it’s important to properly clean and prepare items before placing them in your recycling bin.
Give Plasterics a Quick Rinse
Give all containers a quick rinse to remove residue – especially food, grease, or product remnants. This prevents contamination during processing.
Remove and Discard Lids
Remove and discard plastic lids from bottles and jugs. Lids are often made from a different plastic resin that needs to be recycled separately.
Flatten Bulky Items
To save space, flatten any bulky plastic items like bottles and jugs so they don’t take up excessive room in your bin.
Avoid Bagging Recyclables
Do not place recyclables in plastic bags. Plastic bags get tangled in sorting equipment. Always put plastics directly into your bin without bagging.
Following these steps ensures your plastics are empty, clean and ready to be properly sorted and recycled.
Recycling Beyond Bottles and Jugs
Many people only think to recycle plastic bottles and jugs. But there are more plastic items that can be diverted from landfills.
Recycle Rigid Plastics
In addition to bottles and jugs, recycle other rigid plastics like:
- Laundry baskets
- Toy bins
- Flower pots
As long as they are marked with an accepted resin code, these rigid plastic items are recyclable curbside in many programs.
Reuse Plastic Bags
Plastic shopping bags and other soft film plastics are not accepted in most curbside bins, but they can have a second life.
- Reuse plastic shopping bags for small trash bins or collecting recyclables
- Bring clean plastic bags back to grocery stores to recycle
- Use mail-in recycling programs to recycle bags at home
With a little creativity, plastic bags can be recycled or reused responsibly.
Repurpose Hard-to-Recycle Plastics
Some plastics like straws, utensils and foam may not be recyclable in your area. When possible, opt for reusable alternatives instead of disposable plasticware.
For the plastics you do use, get creative about repurposing or reusing them before throwing out. Simple changes can keep these problem plastics out of landfills.
By properly preparing and sorting your plastics, you can feel confident that even more of your plastic waste will be recycled. Refer to your local guidelines, take the extra steps to clean and flatten plastics, and think outside the box about recyling all types of plastic. With a little effort, we can all reduce our plastic footprint.