Plastics 101: What is Recyclable?

Plastic is one of the world’s biggest forms of waste. It does not break down naturally, so many people try to recycle their household plastic items. This helps the environment greatly and it gives another use to the plastic material. However, not all plastic is recyclable. Before discussing the specifics of what plastic can and cannot be recycled, we should touch on resin identification codes, also known as recycling symbols.

 

Resin Identification Codes

A resin identification code (RIC) is the symbol usually located on the bottom of a plastic item. These symbols were defined by the European Commission to help consumers know what a plastic material is, so it is easier to recycle the dozens of types of plastics. This can be very helpful when trying to properly recycle your items and prevent contaminating the recycling plant. However, some plastics are printed with a RIC that indicates it is a recyclable material, but it may not be for various reasons. We discuss these reasons later on in this blog post. As for the most common RICs on household products, here is what they mean:

  • #1 PET(E), Polyethylene terephthalate: food containers, soft drink bottles, cooking oil containers.

  • #2 PEHD, High-density polyethylene: Plastic bags, plastic milk containers, bottle caps, trash cans.

  • #3 PVC, Polyvinylchloride: Flooring, bottles for chemicals, window frames, trays for food.

  • #4 PELD, Low-density polyethylene: Ziploc bags, clear plastic bags, squeeze bottles, plastic cutting boards.

  • #5 PP, Polypropylene: Microwaveable food containers, flower pots, toys, take-away cups.

  • #6 PS, Polystyrene: Cosmetic bags, jewelry, CD cases, take-away food containers, styrofoam, plastic beverage cups.

  • #7 O, Other: All other plastics such as fiberglass, polylactic fibers, acrylic, nylon, and more.

As you can see, there are many different types of plastic to keep track of. It may be helpful to print out a recycling key and keep it near your recycling bin so you can easily look up what an item’s RIC means.

 

What Plastics Are Recyclable?

In general, most recycling pickup services, including ours, accept most plastic containers and lids labeled with the resin identification codes one through seven. However, as mentioned above, not all of these items are recyclable. RIC numbers one through seven that can be recycled are clear plastic soft drink bottles, plastic party cups, juice and milk cartons, and more. We also accept aluminum beverage cans, newspapers, mail, and glass jars.

It is important to keep in mind that despite an item’s RIC, there may be a reason it cannot be recycled. When you first start out recycling, there will be a period where you need to be cautious when throwing things in the recycling bin. Once you start to memorize the rules, recycling will be incredibly easy and will be second nature. For some of the most common reasons an item may not be able to be recycled, please continue reading.

 

What Plastics Are Not Recyclable?

While most food and beverage containers are recyclable, there are some items that you should never put in your recycling bin. It is very helpful for your recycling plant if you are made aware of the items listed below. This saves a lot of money for the plant, as they do not have to spend as much time sorting through non-recyclable materials.

 

Black Plastic

One of the most popular colors of plasticware, black, should not be recycled. There are a few reasons for this. For one, the sorting technology at recycling plants cannot distinguish black plastic. This causes contamination for an entire lot of plastic. Secondly, very few companies place bids on black recycled plastic, as black plastic can only be turned into other black items. Whereas with clear and white plastic, the color can be changed. So, black plastic should be thrown in the garbage bin if you cannot find another use for it in your household.

 

Items That Held Hazardous Materials

When you think about it, not being able to recycle plastic that once held a hazardous material makes a lot of sense. We don’t want something that has been exposed to battery acid or prescription medication to be turned into a food storage container. This is to protect the consumer who ends up using the plastic, as it may still have traces of the hazardous material in it. To know if something is a form of hazardous waste, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has a comprehensive guide so you can easily exclude plastic items from your recycling bin. Many of the items that once held a hazardous material can still be recycled at a special plant. Some of these plants are in the Minneapolis area, so you can look up plants based on the material in question.

 

Bulk Packaging Plastics

Bulk packaging such as large cat litter containers, extra-large size dog treat containers, 5-gallon paint buckets, water cooler containers, and other large plastic items cannot be recycled at many local recycling plants. This is because these items are so large that they do not fit on the machinery used to process the recycled products. The best solution for this is to buy products in bulk using paper or cardboard packaging, as these materials can be broken down and recycled. Or, you can see if the company you purchased the item from will recycle it for you. When in doubt, these large containers can be used around your house for a variety of purposes, so get creative with them!

 

Styrofoam

Despite being a RIC code six, styrofoam cannot be recycled. The main reason for this is that it is often contaminated with food or liquid, which contaminates the new plastic item it is turned into. The other reason is due to the economics behind recycling the material. Styrofoam is made up of 95% air, which means it is a very low-grade plastic item. Shipping it to the recycling plant is not cost-effective and uses more energy than simply throwing the item away would. So, unfortunately, styrofoam is not recycled despite you putting it in your bin.

 

You are now informed of the types of plastic you should not put inside of your recycling bin. If you have any questions for us regarding what can and cannot be thrown in your recycling bin, please feel free to contact us. Our customer service representatives would be more than happy to answer your questions.

Look up services available in your community

or click on a county below