While recycling systems have certainly come a long way over the years, it can still be confusing to know what plastics you should be recycling and what types need to be kept out of the recycling process.
There are a lot of different types of plastic around the world, and it’s important to know that not all plastic is created equal. Plastics are made out of various chemicals and materials that can affect their ability to be recycled. While you should check with your local sanitation company as rules can be different for every city, here are some good rules of thumb to stick to when sorting your plastics for recycling and can help inform your buying habits at the store.
WHAT PLASTIC CAN BE RECYCLED?
Typically used for single-use items such as soft drinks, ketchup, peanut butter containers, etc., PET is lightweight plastic making it easy to recycle. PET plastics are often recycled into fleece, fiber totes, furniture, carpet, etc.
HDPE is an adaptable higher-density plastic often used in packaging for milk jugs, household cleaners, shopping bags, and yogurt tubs. While plastic bags usually can’t be recycled with local curbside recycling, many stores collect them for recycling, such as Target or Walmart. HDPE can be recycled back into the same types of plastic containers, pens, drainage pipes, fencing, and more.
WHAT PLASTIC CANNOT BE RECYCLED?
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and Vinyl (V) is a tough plastic used for flooring and siding. It’s a highly toxic material that releases toxins in the air during manufacturing and if burned. While a few places collect used PVC, it is typically considered non-recyclable.
PLASTICS THAT CAN SOMETIMES BE RECYCLED
LDPE is a flexible plastic that often packages items such as toothpaste, bread, frozen food, shopping bags, and furniture. It isn’t available for recycling in many curbside programs and needs to be thrown in the trash, other than plastic bags that you can drop off at some local stores. LDPE plastics are often recycled into trash can liners, cans, composting bins, paneling, and lumber.
This plastic has a high melting point, making it perfect for holding hot liquids in coffee mugs or other beverage bottles, and is also found in medicine bottles, caps, and straws. You can recycle PP through some curbside programs, but always make sure it’s clean before throwing it in the bin. PP-based plastic can be recycled into items such as battery cables, brooms, ice scrapers, rakes, and trays.
PS comes in two forms – rigid and foam (also known as styrofoam) and is another highly toxic form of plastic often used in disposable plates, cups, and take-out containers. Toxins from PS can contaminate food and be ingested into our system. While not many sanitation companies can accept PS in the form of foam, rigid PS products can sometimes be recycled.
This category refers to all other types of plastics that don’t fit into categories 1-6. Some examples of this are bullet-proof materials, DVDs, sunglasses, some food containers, and nylon. While these are traditionally not recycled, many curbside programs are making an effort to start including them, so check with your local pick-up provider.
The world of plastics is vast, and they aren’t going away any time soon. The best thing we can do in the meantime is to reduce the amount of plastic we use and buy – and to stay educated about plastic pollution and recycling options. Remember to check with your local pick-up to see what items you can recycle, and we will all continue to take one step at a time toward a plastic-free future!