Seriously, am I right!?! We’re trying to do the right thing and recycle right but depending on who you talk to, you get a different answer. Why is recycling plastic so confusing? I sure don’t have the definitive answer but I’m going to try to sort through it and make some sense.
Plastic has so many valuable purposes but the sad truth is, we recycle less than 10% of the recyclable plastic so unless we’re going eliminate using it, we’ve got to get better about keeping it out of the landfills and oceans.
One easy solution to much of the plastic waste is choosing reusables. Options for reusable products are growing every day, the market is huge. Learn more about 5 reusable products you can easily choose today.
It’ll be hard to eliminate all the plastics so what can you recycle?
What’s the Deal with All the Numbers
One thing that makes recycling plastic so confusing is the numbers in the triangle aren’t a guarantee.
Contrary to popular belief (myself included until I did some research), those numbers 1-7 inside the triangle, on the bottom of most plastic containers don’t actually indicate whether the item can be recycled.
They are actually resin codes that were developed in the late 80’s (best era ever, in my opinion) to help recyclers identify the type of resin used in the product.
So what’s meant by resin? That’s the type of plastic. Yeah, I was clueless too.
What Numbers Can Be Recycled
Community recycling facilities typically take 1’s and 2’s as do most curbside haulers. These are the two that are most easily recycled.
Over the years, I’ve heard conflicting stories about whether to leave bottle caps on or off the bottles when recycling. According to PlasticsRecycling.org, they can be left on and recycled.
1 – PET/PETE – Polyethylene Terephthalate – you’ll find these on drink bottles like water and soda as well as cooking oil bottles and peanut butter tubs. Make sure to keep these bottles out of the sun to prevent toxins from leeching into the product in the container.
The #1 plastic clamshells that most berries and other produce comes in are NOT recyclable with the #1’s that most recycling facilities take. They are made differently and have a different heat requirement for melting down.
2 – HDPE – High Density Polyethylene – you’ll find these on milk jugs, shampoos, detergents and cleaning product bottles. A handy tip, plastic bread bag clips can be thrown in with milk jugs (cap on) and recycled.
What Numbers Can Sometimes Be Recycled
This is where the confusion really comes in. These numbers cannot be recycled without extra effort. You will most likely need to find a special facility that accepts these. More on that below.
4 – LDPE – Low Density Polyethylene – you’ll typically find this number on plastic bags and plastic wrap. Plastic pre-washed salad and vegetable bags are not included here – look for the How2Recycle label on the bag. Those typically have to go in the trash.
Good news, many plastic mailers fall into this category. See below for some game changing information.
Plastic bags and plastic wraps (think paper towel and toilet paper) can be recycled in receptacles that you’ll find in most grocery stores and big box retailers.
Plastic bags and plastic wrap should NEVER, and I’ll say it again for the people in the back, NEVER be put in your curbside bin unless you specifically ask the hauler because those bags will clog up the sorting equipment and cause an entire load to be sent to the dump.
Often you’ll find #4 on other products which is why I put it under sometimes.
I do have a tube of eye cream with a #4 on the label and that obviously isn’t going into the plastic bag receptacle in the grocery store.
5 – PP – Polypropylene – you’ll find this on food containers like sour cream, yogurt, cottage cheese or in straws, ropes and bottle caps. Check with your curbside hauler to find out if they take it, mine does not nor does my community recycling center.
6 – PS – Polystyrene – good old Styrofoam (which is actually a branded name by DuPont) – if you have Publix grocery stores near you, they collect polystyrene.
RELATED: How to dispose of Styrofoam
7 – Other – this is typically a blend of plastics so you may have to do a bit more research. #7 can also include plant and bio based plastics like corn, potato and sugar derivatives that aren’t recyclable.
Perfect example, the FairLife milk containers are a #7 so I checked their website and it states the bottles are recyclable as a #1 PET plastic. I contacted the company for an explanation and was told that a color resin is added to the plastic requiring it it be a #7.
After doing a little research, my non-sciency brain learned that when color is added to a #1, it becomes less valuable because there are limited end uses for the recycled plastic.
What Numbers Can’t Be Recycled
3 – PVC – Polyvinyl Chloride – you’ll find this on kids toys, plastic trays, tubing and furniture.
Are Plastic Mailers Recyclable
The good news is YES! They are recyclable with plastic bags and even better, those plastic Amazon mailers with the bubble wrap things inside, can be put in the grocery store plastic bag receptacle along with all the other plastic bags.
An even better option though is to request that Amazon not send you items in plastic mailers. Yes, you can do that!
Go online and in the upper left corner where it says Amazon, click on the 3 horizontal lines to the left of “Amazon”
In the pop up menu, scroll to the bottom and click Customer Service. In the ‘Find more solutions’ box, type ‘chat live’
Click the blue ‘Go to Amazon.com Customer Service’ hyperlink
Click the yellow ‘Start chatting now’ button
Type in ‘Can I have a note added to my account to please avoid any unnecessary packaging on all future orders?’
I recently did this so only time will tell but hey, I order enough stuff from Amazon, shortly I’ll know if it worked and it’s always worth a try, right?
Where Can You Recycle
If you have curbside pick up, it’s best to check with them however, if you need to locate a facility or are curious what yours will take, these resources are super helpful:
- Earth911 – they have a great locator tool and are my favorite resource for all things recycling, and I mean ALL THINGS
- How2Recycle – wonderful resource for all things plastic recycling
What About Biodegradable Plastics
Another thing that makes recycling plastic so confusing is that all bets are off if it’s labeled biodegradable.
I’m still learning about biodegradable plastics but one thing I do know, if you have a compost bin, biodegradable plastics (including bags) do not go in there.
Biodegradable plastics need to be sent to a commercial composting facility where the equipment gets hot enough to do the job.
Choose to Refuse Plastic, when possible
Next time you hit the grocery store, plan to spend a bit more time looking at the products on the shelf and how they are packaged. Is the packaging easily recycled? Choose to be a conscious consumer.
Believe me, I am far from the poster child for conscious consumerism but I think I do a pretty decent job.
Why is Recycling Plastic So Confusing
Make it a green day!