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It has a recycling symbol! Is it recyclable?

Mar 5, 2020 | Contamination, Education

Could you go an entire day without using plastic?

Plastic is imbedded in every aspect of our lives. From the keyboard I am typing on, to the toothbrush I used this morning, to the milk jug I poured my milk from, the list is endless. We have produced more plastic in the last ten years than we have during the whole of the last century. The average American throws away approximately 185 pounds of plastic per year.

So, why can’t we recycle all of it?

On the bottom of most plastic containers you can find a small number within the three chasing arrows. Just because a plastic container has this recycling symbol on the bottom, it does not mean it can get recycled.  The stamp is a Resin Identification Code, or RIC, and the numbers indicate exactly what type of plastic is being used for that container.

There are seven resin codes used inside the chasing arrow symbols:

  1. PET – Polyethylene Terephthalate, which is used to make pop and water bottles.
  2. HDPE – High Density Polyethylene is opaque and typically used in bottles that store laundry detergent and milk.
  3. PVC – V Polyvinyl Chloride, which is found in plastic pipes, flooring and imitation leather.
  4. LDPE – Low Density Polyethylene, which is found in plastic bags, and plastic wrap.
  5. PP – Polypropylene, which is used for yogurt containers, straws, and bottle caps.
  6. PS – Polystyrene is used to make disposable cutlery and is also found in Styrofoam.
  7. Other – This category covers a vast mixture of resins and includes some food containers.

Plastic Resin Codes: Click here for more information.

These numbers were designed to inform manufacturers of toxic chemicals used in the plastic, how likely the plastic is to leach these chemicals, how bio-degradable the plastic is, and categorically, the safety of the plastics.   

So, what determines the recyclability of plastic you may ask?

Well, simply put, if there’s a demand in the market then companies will pay for your post-consumer recyclables. Without a market demand, those recyclables are nearly useless. Placing them in the recycling bin won’t make a difference if someone can’t make money off them. If the demand isn’t there, or the quality of the materials post-use is incurably dirty, they end up in landfill.

Here, at the STW Recycling District, we currently collect plastic bottles and jugs only.

The plastic containers must have a neck and shoulders on them and be clean, dry, and empty. This is what the current market and our processors are asking for.

 PET or PETE (Polyethylene Terephthalate) is the most common plastic for single use bottled beverages, because it is inexpensive, lightweight, and easy to recycle. It poses low risk of leaching breakdown products. However please be aware that not all PET is accepted. We are looking for containers such as soft drink bottles, water bottles, ketchup bottles, mouthwash bottles, peanut butter containers, salad dressing containers, and vegetable oil containers, just to name a few. After these clean recyclables are collected and processed, they are recycled into polyester, fibers, tote bags, furniture, carpet, paneling, and strapping material.

The second plastic material we are seeking is HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) which is a versatile plastic with many uses, especially for packaging. It also carries low risk of leaching and can be easily recycled into many goods. We accept materials such as milk jugs, juice bottles, bleach, detergent, and other household cleaner bottles. This material is made into things such as recycled laundry detergent bottles, oil bottles, pens, recycling containers, floor tile, drainage pipes, plastic lumber, benches, doghouses, picnic tables, fencing, and shampoo bottles. 

For more fun and interesting recycling facts, click here!

2 Comments

  1. Kathy Helmuth

    I am an avid recycler. But it is very difficult because I keep getting conflicting information, and incomplete information. even from the recycle people like yourselves. Your article above states that “plastic containers must have a neck and shoulders on them”. The very next paragraph says one of the items you are looking for are peanut butter containers. I have never seen a peanut butter container with a neck and shoulders. Also, you nicely describe what the numbers 1 through 7 mean on plastics. However, you never really say CLEARLY which numbers you accept. I eat a lot of yogurt. Would you be able to use clean yogurt containers with a 5 on them? Do you accept glass? Should caps be on, or left out? I really want to recycle with no contamination to make it more successful, but the instructions are never really clear. Why is it so hard to be very clear about what you accept?
    I live in Wooster and we have curbside pickup. I just looked at the website for that, and it says all plastics are ok, from 1 to 7. Is this true?
    Please, please, put out information that is consistent and clear, on the websites and in the flyers that we get in the mail about recycling. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Steve Tharp

      Kathy, thank you for your concern! We understand that there are alot of messages being thrown out there. Hopefully I can help to ease some of those concerns. If you have curbside, you should follow the curbside rules for what they collect. If you are taking recycling to our public drop off, you follow what we accept because it may be a different vendor. Kimble, Waste Management, Republic and so on collect different items for recycling. Some have similar rules but the biggest difference is usually in the plastics. Recycling is easy. For your curbside, follow the rules set out by Wooster. For our public drop offs, follow ours.

      Regarding the peanut butter jar, it does have a neck and shoulders. It’s just not as obvious as some of the other plastics. The slight indentation is considered to be the “shoulders”. The part of the peanut butter jar where the lid is screwed on is the neck. As for the numbers, there is a lot of confusion about what these numbers mean, and what they should be used for in recycling. The numbers are not meant to determine whether an item is recyclable or not. The numbers are a reference to the types of plastics. For example, the Number 2 – HDPE – High-density Polyethylene, which are containers for laundry/dish detergent, milk, shampoo, conditioner, also various toys, and grocery bags. Toys and Grocery bags are not recyclable in our bins, or at the MRF’s and are considered contaminants. You’ll notice that this aligns with our new labels at the Wooster Buehlers. I would advise you to forget about numbers as not all plastics are recyclable. For plastics, we only recycle plastic bottles and jugs. That’s it. We recycle cardboard (flattened), paper, aluminum/metal cans, glass bottles and jars. This aligns with Kimble’s website who is our processor. I would love to know what website you were looking at that said things to the contrary. If we know where it is, we might be able to assist in fixing it. For plastic, all caps should be left on if possible. That comes directly from Kimble who is our processor. If you have someone for curbside other than Kimble, that is why there are difference.

      I wish that we could wave a wand and have every company accept the same thing. In 3 counties, we have many haulers with each one having their own rules. If you use our sites, please use http://www.timetorecycle.org for all the latest.

      Reply

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