Thursday, April 9, 2009

Recycling Plastic

Before you can recycle plastic, you need to know which plastics your recycling company accepts. Surely you have noticed the numbers that appear on the inside of the recycling symbol, right? Those numbers indicate the type of plastic the item is made from. The most common forms of plastic are #1 and #2 and therefor they are easier to recycle. What about the other 5 numbers and what do they all mean? Here is quick breakdown, thanks to

#1 PET (Polyethylene terephthalate): soda bottles, oven-ready meal trays and water bottles
#2 HDPE (High-density polyethylene): milk bottles, detergent bottles and grocery/trash/retail bags
#3 PVC (Polyvinyl chloride): plastic food wrap, loose-leaf binders and plastic pipes
#4 LDPE (Low-density polyethylene): dry cleaning bags, produce bags and squeezable bottles
#5 PP (Polypropylene): medicine bottles, aerosol caps, drinking straws and food containers (such as yogurt, ketchup bottles and sour cream/butter/hummus tubs)
#6 PS (Polystyrene): compact disc jackets, packaging Styrofoam peanuts and plastic tableware
#7 Other: reusable water bottles, certain kinds of food containers and Tupperware

As I mentioned, #1 and #2 plastics are the easiest to recycle and most companies accept them. When we still had dual-stream recycling, those were the only 2 plastics we could put in our bins. Now that we have single-stream, we can recycle any numbered plastic. Just another reason why single-stream recycling is so awesome. If you don't have it, see if anyone in your area provides it. I would also like to quickly point out that should avoid plastics #3 and #6 when you can. PVC (#3) contains phthalates and is proving to be more and more toxic every day. Polystyrene (#6) has been linked to neurological issues. #7 category is kind of a catchall for all other plastics that don't fit into categories 1 through 6. It is tricky because many #7 plastics contain BPA while others are safe. If you have #7 plastics that you are unsure of, call the manufacturer to see if they are made with BPA.

Ever wonder how plastic gets recycled? What exactly happens after they get to the recycling plant? Here is a quick video that provides a simple illustration.

Finally, I will leave you with some plastic recycling facts, again courtesy of
  • In 2006, Americans drank about 167 bottles of water each but only recycled an average of 23 percent. That leaves 38 billion water bottles in landfills.
  • Bottled water costs between $1 and $4 per gallon, and 90 percent of the cost is in the bottle, lid and label.
  • According to the Beverage Marketing Corp, the average American consumed 1.6 gallons of bottled water in 1976. In 2006 that number jumped to 28.3 gallons.
  • It takes over 1.5 million barrels of oil to manufacture a year’s supply of bottled water. That’s enough oil to fuel 100,000 cars.
  • Eight out of 10 plastic water bottles become landfill waste.
  • In 2007 we spent $16 billion on bottled water. That’s more than we spent on iPods or movie tickets.
  • Plastic bottles can take up to 1000 years before they begin to decompose once buried.
  • If everyone in NYC gave up water bottles for one week, they would save 24 million bottles from being landfilled. One month on the same plan would save 112 million bottles, and one year would save 1.328 billion bottles from going into the landfill.
The topic for April's Green Mom's Carnival is plastic and will be hosted over at Fake Plastic Fish on April 14.


  1. Great Post. I knew some stuff about plastic but it is so confusing. i remember when Melinda and I were trying to figure out what water bottles were safe to use. Also, we can only recycle #1 and #2 so I will have to look into the single-stream process.

  2. I believe Fake Plastic Fish is hosting a green carnival tomorrow and the topic is plastic. You should email her a link to this post! :-)

  3. very informative and resourceful - thanks for participating in the carnival!!

  4. great informative post! i recycle through my trash service and I think they are not actually doing it so will probably be looking to do it myself, good to know the ends and outs.

  5. Great post. Lots of good information here!

    Thanks for joining the carnival.



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