Most people know the little triangle symbol at the bottom of plastic bottles means 'recycle' but there is so much more to this important subject. Just because an item has a triangle on the bottom doesn't necessarily mean it can be recycled.
The numbers we refer to indicate the grade of plastic and can also tell you about their safety and uses. We’ve created this guide, with the help of environmentalists, scientists and the media, to help us determine the what and where of this sometimes complicated but important subject.
Simple, Quick & Easy Primer
With all that is going on in our world, particularly in the past year when we all did our absolute best to support local restaurants and small businesses, it’s been easy to lose site of the food and beverage packaging that contained our take-out items. Our trash and recycling have been conveniently disposed of with our efficient curbside pick-up and when out of our sight, it’s out of our minds.
The purpose of this article is to keep us well informed on what recycling is and how to do it thoughtfully. If everyone were to recycle properly, we could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce landfill and polluted waste, protect ecosystems, and preserve natural resources — all vital steps to defeating climate change. Collectively, we can do this! Here’s how…
Know your numbers and what they mean.
Nearly every plastic product will have the three-arrow triangle signaling the recycle, reuse, and reduce symbol, but this triangle can be misleading. Not all products with the triangle can be recycled. Inside the triangle is a number that designates the type of plastic the item is made of. So here is an easy rule of thumb:
Numbers that should not be placed into the recycling bin are 3, 6 and 7 which include items such as detergent containers, Styrofoam and mixed-plastic products.
Numbers that are easily recyclable are generally 1, 2, 4 and 5. However, 4 includes plastic grocery bags, which New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, among other states, have, in the past year, stopped using and are no longer recycle worthy. It is best to return grocery bags or plastic food film to a drop-off location, usually located at a local supermarket. Or bring your own bag when you shop.
#1 – Polyethylene Terephthalate
This is the easiest plastic to recycle and most commonly found in plastic water/soda bottles and some food packaging. PETE is commonly recycled into fibers or polar fleece. It is not recommended for reuse which means it ends up in the recycling stream quickly.
#2 – High Density Polyethylene
This kind of plastic is usually colored or opaque and can be found in milk jugs and detergent or household cleaner bottles. HDPE can easily be recycled into plastic lumber, more bottles or drainage pipes and is considered one of the safest forms of plastic.
#3 – Polyvinyl Chloride
Found in medical plastics, and some toys, this plastic is typically not used for household items that can be consumed as it can contain phthalates.
#4 – Low Density Polyethylene
Bottles you can squeeze like shampoo or condiment bottles are made from LDPE.
#5 – Polypropylene
PP is durable and versatile. This is usually found in medical bottles, yogurt tubs, cereal box liners, bottle caps, some ropes and condiment bottles. PP can be recycled into brushes, battery cases and bike racks.
#6 – Polystyrene
Commonly referred to as 'Styrofoam' this is the one kind of plastic that is NOT accepted at the Hebron Transfer Station. Styrofoam makes up Dunkin' cups (for hot liquids), meat trays, packing peanuts and egg cartons.
#7 – BPA, Lexan etc.
This is a mixed bag of plastics. It includes things like baby bottles and 5-gallon water jugs.
Wash out items.
A necessary and simple step - thoroughly rinse all containers. There is no need to perform a deep scrub - a simple rinse under a sink will ensure that the item can be recycled. Do not leave any food in containers. If an item is not properly washed out, it will be thrown away rather than recycled.
Avoid single use items.
Do not use them if you can realistically avoid it. Doing so can significantly reduce the amount of waste entering the Earth’s waterways and harming wildlife. Generally, single-use plastics are difficult to recycle and include straws, cutlery, plates, and cups.
Know your paper.
Items like tissues, napkins, paper towels and plates, even if they are not used, should not be recycled. However, tissue boxes and the cores of toilet paper and paper towels can be. Printed or written-on paper can be recycled. Usually, cardboard is easily recyclable, but when the cardboard is coated with wax or another substance, it is generally not recyclable. Pasta boxes and juice containers, for example, are generally not recyclable. Newspapers, envelopes, magazines, and most types of paper are.
Inspect for grease.
Have you been ordering pizza and placing the entire box into the recycling bin? It’s okay, we’ve all made that mistake at least once. But greased cardboard cannot be recycled. The same goes for oily plastic containers. If you compost, you can place the greased cardboard in your compost bin! If not, throw the greased portions in the trash.
Claim your deposit.
In New York State, when purchasing some bottles and cans, you pay a five-cent deposit. If you have lived or partied in that state think about all the bottles you have purchased. Five cents may not seem like a lot, but after some time, it can amount to a significant chunk of money. You can get your deposit back if you return your bottles to a redemption center. It sounds like a win-win!
Check in with your recycling center.
Different centers accept different items. Be sure to check your local facilities’ website to find out their rules. If needed, there might be a person you can contact if you have additional questions.
When in doubt throw it out.
Although painful, if you don’t know if something can be recycled, it’s best to throw it away with regular trash. If not, it could potentially contaminate an entire supply of recycled materials, causing more than just a couple of items to be thrown away. Or worse, it could cause equipment to jam which can be dangerous to employees and an expensive nightmare for the local center.
It may seem like a lot to absorb and there are some variations of the rules in certain areas, but we hope we have taken a little bit of the mystery out of this perhaps confusing and complicated subject. If we all do our part, we will have a much safer and more beautiful place to live and to leave for those who follow. We can do this!