For a material we so often use, plastic can be rather confusing to recycle. Sure, plastic is light, readily available and comes in a variety of textures and forms, so plastic may seem attractive for any manufacturer or consumer needs, but this material is in fact often rather difficult to recycle. Despite the promotion of plastic recycling, there is limited potential to reduce this large portion of consumer waste. With the introduction of The Plastic Numbering System, almost all plastics include a small “chasing arrow” symbol to indicate the item’s resin code (and in turn, its local recyclability). While the standardized codes, numbered 1 through 7, aim to alleviate some of the confusion, this doesn’t necessary mean every plastic item can be recycled near the consumer’s municipality. Each number outlines the seven common plastic resins, when in fact there are thousands of plastic hybrids on the market. Various resin combinations and levels of dyes, chemicals and other variables produce products with different melting points, making recycling a very difficult process. At this point, most municipal recycling infrastructure cannot keep up with the latest plastic hybrids to hit the market. So, the next logical question is: What can consumers do to help fill in this gap? First: reduce! While this practice may seem so obvious, it’s the best possible practice there is. Look at different brands next time you are at the grocery store — preferably ones that don’t use plastic packaging — and instead opt for cartons or canned goods. Also, don’t forget to bring your reusable bags to the store. Eliminate the need for plastic bags at the checkout so you do not have to worry about how you’re going to dispose of them later. If you are caught in a situation in which you do need to dispose of some plastic, try reusing the containers multiple times whenever possible. You might as well get the best use out of your plastic before having to toss it in the recycling bin. It is important to note that not all curbside programs take all of your unwanted plastics. Oftentimes I end up saving the plastic until I find another home or purpose for it. Whether it’s using a plastic bag as a trash bag in the bathroom or using a cheese container as a lunch container while working, I am always looking for ways to reuse the plastic I consume. Some municipalities still cannot recycle certain types of plastics, so learn beforehand which resins your community accepts so you can look for packaging that is sure to get recycled when finished. If the recycling of plastics seems limited in your area, there are many options to consider before assuming the trash is the only option. You can always visit our recycling location search engine to find nearby drop-off locations for your plastics as well. Don’t let plastic confusion bog you down, because taking small steps like these go a long way to reducing your daily impact.
Confused by Plastic Recyclability? You’re Not Alone
Which plastics are recyclable in your community? It is important to know so you can buy and recycle appropriately.