Plastic is everywhere. Sometimes it’s easy to spot, like in a takeout container or a grocery bag. But sometimes, it hides in items like chewing gum and cigarette butts. We know that you always try your best to recycle as many plastic products as you can, but recycling different plastics properly can be tricky. With numbered recycling symbols and their various meanings, it can be hard to know when to recycle what. Don’t worry, we’re here to help:
Identifying your plastic is crucial to recycling properly. You can do this by checking the resin code on the bottom of the plastic item (this is the chasing arrows symbol surrounding a number). People often mistake this as a sign that the product is recyclable, when really it’s just telling you what type of plastic resin the object is made from.
There are seven types of plastic:
- Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE)
This plastic is light, cheap, common, and easy to recycle. It’s often used in disposable water bottles and condiment bottles. Curbside recycling programs often accept #1 plastics, which can be recycled into tote bags, carpet, and more!
- High-density polyethylene (HDPE)
HDPE is a strong plastic, identified by the #2 resin code. It’s often used in packaging for laundry detergent, shampoo bottles, and milk containers. Like #1 plastics, #2 plastics are also often recyclable curbside.
- Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC or Vinyl)
This plastic is hard and rigid and is resistant to chemicals and weathering, making it ideal for construction applications like plumbing pipes and rain gutters. PVC is the most dangerous plastic because it is made of chlorine chemicals which can leach dangerous toxins.
- Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
This is a flexible plastic. It is softer and clearer, often used in plastic wrap, bread bags, and garbage bags.
- Polypropylene (PP)
Polypropylene is one of the most durable types of plastic. This kind of plastic is known for resisting heat, making it ideal for food containers, prescription bottles, and straws.
- Polystyrene (PS or Styrofoam)
Most commonly known as Styrofoam, #6 plastics are low-cost and have insulation properties which is why it’s often used for food containers. Despite its popularity, it is quite harmful and can leach harmful neurotoxins into the food it contains.
This final category is for all remaining types of plastic. Common #7 plastics include sunglasses, CDs, and clear plastic cutlery. These plastics typically are not recyclable.
Be sure to research your local curbside recycling service to learn about what you can and can’t recycle in your blue bin—every city is different. Some places accept more kinds of plastics and recyclables than others. It’s important to know this so you can avoid wishcycling.
Wishcycling is the well-intentioned belief that something is recyclable, even when it’s not. It occurs when a person puts an item in a recycling bin without being certain that that item is actually recyclable.
This may not seem like a big deal in theory, but in reality, it’s contaminating the recycling system. Contaminating a waste stream of recyclable items with an unrecyclable item creates a need for extra labor and can damage sorting systems and equipment. These factors can make recycling, which is already unappealing to waste management companies due to cost, even more unappealing.
Recycling properly is essential, so this Plastic Free July, research your local curbside recycling service and what it accepts and doesn’t accept so you can avoid wishcycling. If you find an item you can’t recycle curbside, check out TerraCycle’s free recycling programs and Zero Waste Boxes to find a solution! You’re sure to find a way to #RecycleEverything.