Recycling Responsibly: What Types of Plastic are Recyclable?
Welcome back to Bay Disposal’s Recycling Responsibly Series.
Each week we’re back with more answers to your lifelong recycling questions. Ever stood at the two bins – one black for trash, one blue or green for recycling – and wondered whether the item in your hand is recyclable? Let Bay Disposal solve your dilemma, and let us all do our part to help preserve and protect our planet (it’s the only one we’ve got).
What is Plastic & Where did it come from?
The term ‘plastic’ has multiple meanings, from the mean girls to the cosmetic surgery, but originally stems from the Greek word “plastikos,” which means to grow or to form. Plastic was first formed by nature, derived from natural gas, oil, coal, and plants such as the rubber tree. It really started to take off in the 1800s, when its usefulness in replacing animal materials, such as ivory and tortoise shells, became widely known.
By heating the cellulose fibers harvested from plants, chemists were able to create the first polymers. As the prefix “poly-” suggests, these substances are comprised of multiple molecules bonded together to form one cohesive material: plastic. There are many different names under which plastic operates: polyethylene, polystyrene, polypropylene. Each denotes a slightly different chemical makeup, and each is intended for slightly different usage.
Knowing about the many types of plastic, it may come as no surprise to you to learn that not all are created equal. Some types of plastic are highly recyclable, while others simply aren’t. The key is to examine the plastic for that little triangle made of arrows, and then look up the number inside it. Let’s take a look.
#1 PET: Poloyehtylene Terephthalate is a common form of plastic, used to form soda and water bottles. This type of plastic is recyclable, but only about 25% of them are recycled in the United States per year. We can do better!
#2 HDPE:High-Density Polyethylene is a thicker form of plastic, used for a wide variety of products due to its extreme durability.
In addition to being used for milk jugs, laundry detergent containers, toys, and plastic bags this type of plastic is also found often in picnic tables, park benches, truck bed liners, and other instances requiring weather-resistant plastic.
#3 PVC:Polyvinyl Chloride is softer plastic, used for plastic wrap, teething rings, inflatable pool toys, as well as pipes and tubes.
Its high tolerance for sunlight and weather phenomena make it ideal for use in garden hoses, trellises, and other outdoors products. Unfortunately, PVC is comprised of many toxins which make it difficult to recycle.
Conclusion: Do Not Recycle.
#4 LDPE: Low-Density Polyethylene is used for grocery bags, garment bags, and bread bags. It is not as durable as its fellow, HDPE, but can be used for plastic lumber, landscaping boards, and floor tiles. This type of plastic has historically not been highly recyclable, but times are changing, and more companies are adapting to handle this specific service.
Bay Disposal hopes to join the growing movement to incorporate another type of plastic into our monthly recycling pickups!
Conclusion: Do Not Recycle … Yet.
#5 PP: Polypropylene is the light yet tough material that prevents your chips or cereal from going stale before you open them. Also commonly made with PP plastic are diapers, bottle tops, butter/margarine/yogurt containers, straws, and packing tape.
Although recyclable and accepted at most waste disposal & recycling companies, only 3% of PP plastic is recycled in the United States annually.
#6 PS: Polystyrene, by the name alone, you can guess its function. We often refer to this material as ‘styrofoam,’ and see it most commonly used in takeaway boxes at restaurants, to-go cups for hot or cold beverages, egg cartons, and packaging peanuts.
A versatile substance, it is also used as insulation and sheeting for laminate flooring.
This material is widely used, despite being comprised of highly dangerous carcinogens.
When heated in a microwave, the food contained within is thought to absorb leached styrene. The foam buildup seen at polluted bodies of water is largely composed of PS plastic, and is toxic to animals as well as humans, which is why it is not recyclable.
For a product such as this (toxic and with no reuse value) the best course of action as a civilization is to find an alternative solution.
Conclusion: Do Not Use, or Recycle.
#7 Other: These plastics include BPA, Polycarbonate, and LEXAN. This category includes a variety of plastic types, some of which are recyclable and some of which are not. You’ve doubtless heard of BPA and its negative connotations.
You may not have heard of PLA, a new form of compostable plastic made from corn starch. While PLA is compostable, it, along with the other #7s, are not recyclable.