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The Hard Facts About Plastic

The recycling industry is under a microscope with the recent market changes and the impacts are being felt by the community. Whether it’s buyback closures, pollution, or landfilling seemingly ‘recyclable’ material, plastic is at the forefront of these conversations. In this post, we will address common questions that we receive regarding plastic and the issues plastics pose within the recycling industry.

1. What makes recycling plastic so difficult?

You know that triangle symbol that we’ve known to associate with recycling? It is commonly used as a symbol on the side of a bin to encourage people to recycle. It is also usually found on the underside of different plastic items. The triangle symbols on plastic products does NOT mean the product is recyclable. The chasing-arrow triangles with numbers inside is the resin identification code, which indicates the type of plastic the product is made of with numbers ranging from #1-7. This leads to confusion among the public, since many items are mistaken to be recyclable when they are not.

2. Which plastics are recyclable?

Plastics #1 (PET) and 2 (HDPE) are readily recyclable and are usually recycled in both domestic and some international markets. Plastics #1 are items such as water and soda bottles, peanut butter jars, and salad dressing bottles. These items are mostly recycled into more water and soda bottles or textiles and insulation. Examples of Plastics #2 are milk jugs, laundry detergent and oil bottles, and drain cleaner containers. These items are mostly recycled into more laundry detergent and oil bottles, piping, recycling containers, shampoo bottles, and chairs.

3. Are any of the numbers in the triangles difficult to recycle?

Plastics #3 – 7 are plastics that are difficult to recycle. Examples of Plastics #3 – 7 are PVC pipes, yogurt containers, cold and hot beverage lids, and takeout containers. There is currently no market for the material when it is deconstructed, as these are low-quality plastics. Currently, RethinkWaste is still accepting plastics #1 – 7, but once plastics #1 – 2 are sorted out, plastics #3 – 7 are directed to the transfer station and sent to the landfill.  Try and avoid these plastics as much as possible or reuse them if you can.

4. Which plastic is not recyclable in the RethinkWaste service area and why?

Items such as plastic utensils, black-colored plastic, straws, plastic hangers, plastic bags, and polystyrene foam (also known as Styrofoam) do not belong in the recycling cart. These items can damage facility equipment and cannot be accurately or efficiently captured due to their size. In addition, RethinkWaste does not currently have an existing or stable market to sell these materials to, as they are also low-quality plastic.

When we talk about recycling and what items are “recyclable,” we mean that materials can be turned into something else and as long as there is a market for the materials. With plastic at the forefront of recycling conversations, it forces us to take a hard look at what is and is not actually marketable, and in turn allows us to make informed decisions for ourselves. Since we now know which plastics are marketable, we have the choice to refuse these plastics in our lives or to reuse them instead.

More information can be found on our “The Hard Facts About Plastics” fact sheet.

Have more questions about recycling or plastics? Shoot us a note below!

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