There are seven types of plastic, each identified by a number inside a triangle of arrows. The type of plastic is usually marked on the bottom or back of the product. Try to avoid using products made of numbers 3, 6 and 7 when possible. Numbers 1 and 2 are most easily recycled.
- Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE): Soft drinks bottles, water bottles, cooking oil bottles, and many food containers.
- High-density polyethylene (HDPE): Milk bottles, detergent bottles, and grocery bags.
- Polyvinyl chloride (PVC): Pipes, window frames, and flooring.
- Low-density polyethylene (LDPE): Plastic bags, shrink wrap, and some food packaging.
- Polypropylene (PP): Some food containers and household items.
- Polystyrene (PS): Takeout food containers, meat trays, and some plastic cutlery.
- Other: Includes polycarbonate (PC) and acrylic (PMMA), which are used in some types of food containers, electronic and automotive parts, and other products.
Can all 7 types of plastic be recycled?
Yes…but no. All seven types of plastic can technically be recycled, but the feasibility of recycling a particular type of plastic depends on several factors, including the availability of recycling facilities and the demand for recycled plastic. Some types of plastic, such as PET and HDPE, are more commonly recycled than others, such as PVC and PS, due to their widespread use and the relative ease of recycling them.
Even if a type of plastic can be recycled, it doesn’t mean that all products made from that plastic can be recycled. Some plastic products may be made from multiple types of plastic or may be contaminated with other materials that make them difficult or impossible to recycle. It’s a good idea to check with your local recycling provider to find out what types of plastic they accept and how to prepare them for recycling.
Which plastics are not generally recycled?
Some types of plastic are more difficult to recycle than others due to their chemical composition or the way they are manufactured. For example, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is often not recycled due to the toxic chemicals used in its production and the difficulties involved in recycling it. Polystyrene (PS), commonly known as styrofoam, is also not usually recycled due to the low demand for recycled polystyrene and the high cost of recycling it.
While it is technically possible to recycle polystyrene, it is often not economically feasible due to the low value of the recycled material and the challenges involved in separating it from other materials.
Polystyrene is made up of a type of plastic called styrene, which is not easily biodegradable. When it ends up in landfills, it can take hundreds of years to break down. As a result, recycling polystyrene can help to reduce the environmental impact of this material.
If you want to recycle polystyrene, you can check with your local recycling provider to see if they accept it. Some recycling programs may accept clean, dry polystyrene foam, such as egg cartons, meat trays, and packing peanuts, for recycling. Others may not accept it at all.
If your local recycling program does not accept polystyrene, you can try contacting a local packaging or shipping company to see if they will accept it for reuse as packing material. You can also try contacting a local recycling facility that specializes in recycling hard-to-recycle materials to see if they will accept it.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
PVC is a type of plastic that is used in a wide range of products, including pipes, window frames, and flooring. It is known for its durability and resistance to corrosion, but it is also one of the most environmentally harmful plastics due to the toxic chemicals used in its production and disposal.
If you want to recycle PVC, you can check with your local recycling provider to see if they accept it. Some recycling programs may accept certain types of PVC products, such as pipes and siding, for recycling. Others may not accept it at all.
If your local recycling program does not accept PVC, try finding a specialized recycling facility that deals with hard-to-recycle materials. Alternatively, you can try contacting a local manufacturer or contractor to see if they will accept it for reuse.
Should you put plastic grocery bags in your recycling bin?
It depends on your local recycling guidelines and the facilities available in your area. Some recycling programs accept plastic bags for recycling, while others do not.
Plastic bags and other thin, flexible plastic films can be difficult to recycle because they can get tangled in the machinery at recycling facilities. As a result, many recycling programs do not accept plastic bags or other flexible films.
If you are unsure whether your local recycling program accepts plastic bags, you can check with your local recycling provider or look up your local guidelines online. If plastic bags are not accepted in your area, you may be able to recycle them at a local retailer that has a plastic bag recycling program. Some retailers, such as grocery stores, have collection bins where you can drop off plastic bags and other flexible films for recycling.
If you do put plastic bags in your recycling bin, be sure to empty and flatten them first. Do not put any other types of garbage, such as food waste or used tissues, in the bags. Contaminating the bags with other materials can make them difficult or impossible to recycle.
Which types of plastic are collected for recycling in the U.S.?
In the United States, the most commonly recycled plastics collected from homes are polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE). These two types of plastic are widely used in a variety of products, including soft drink bottles, water bottles, milk bottles, and detergent bottles, and they are easy to recycle.
Other types of plastic that are commonly recycled from homes include low-density polyethylene (LDPE) and polypropylene (PP). These types of plastic are used in a variety of products, including plastic bags, shrink wrap, and some food packaging.
How should you prepare plastic waste for recycling?
- Check with your local recycling provider to find out what types of plastic they accept and how to prepare them for recycling. Some recycling programs have specific guidelines for preparing plastic waste, so it’s important to follow these guidelines to ensure that the plastic is recycled properly.
- Rinse plastic containers to remove any food residue or other contaminants. This helps to reduce odors and prevent the spread of bacteria.
- Remove caps and lids from plastic containers. Some recycling programs accept caps and lids, while others do not. If in doubt, check with your local recycling provider to find out what to do with them.
- Flatten plastic containers to save space. This makes it easier to transport the plastic to the recycling facility and reduces the amount of energy needed to process it.
- Sort plastic by type if your local recycling program requires it. Some recycling programs ask that you separate different types of plastic, such as PET and HDPE, to make it easier to process them.
- Do not put any non-plastic materials, such as paper, cardboard, or food waste, in with the plastic. Contaminating the plastic with other materials can make it difficult or impossible to recycle.
Specialized recycling facilities
Specialized recycling facilities, also known as “waste-to-energy” or “energy-from-waste” facilities, are designed to process hard-to-recycle materials and turn them into energy. These facilities use a variety of technologies, such as combustion and gasification, to convert materials that are difficult or impossible to recycle into energy in the form of electricity, steam, or heat.
Some examples of hard-to-recycle materials that may be accepted at specialized recycling facilities include:
- Plastic bags and other flexible films
- Polystyrene (styrofoam)
- Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
- Composite materials, such as those made from a mixture of plastic and paper
- Electronic waste (e-waste), such as computers, TVs, and cell phones
Specialized recycling facilities are typically not available in all areas, and the types of materials they accept may vary. If you have hard-to-recycle materials that you want to dispose of, you can try contacting a specialized recycling facility in your area to see if they will accept them. You can also try contacting your local recycling provider or a waste management company to see if they can provide information about facilities that accept hard-to-recycle materials.