The Mystery Behind the Numbers

rubbermiadbinRecycling isn’t very intuitive.  Some sorts of plastic can be recycled, some sorts of packaging can’t, it varies in every county… I know I’m guilty of pitching something into the recycle bin and hoping I made the right choice!

Thankfully, Google directed me to The Daily Green, which breaks down what types of plastic the numbers indicate, and what our recycled things become after we toss them in the bin:

  1. polyethylene terephthalate: soda and water bottles, salad dressing bottles.
     Recycles into: fleece, tote bags, carpet.
  2. high density polyethylene: cereal box liners, butter tubs, juice jugs.  Recycles into: pens, benches, fencing.
  3. Vinyl or PVC: detergent bottles, siding, medical equipment.  Recycles into: decks, flooring, mats.
  4. low density polyethylene: squeezable bottles, shopping and dry cleaning bags. Recycles into: compost bins, shipping envelopes, floor tiles.
  5. polypropylene: ketchup bottles, straws, bottle caps.  Recycles into: signal lights, ice scrapers, rakes.
  6. polystyrene: disposable cups and plates, egg cartons, CD cases.  Recycles into: insulation, foam packing.
  7. Miscellaneous: 5 gallon water jugs, sunglasses, computer cases, PLA.  Recycles into: custom made products.

I had no idea there are so many types of plastic!

But to recycle properly, you need to know more than just plastic types and numbers.  Many counties have distinct recycling programs that only take certain forms of the plastics/numbers above.  My county (MoCo!) accepts plastic bottles 1-7 (except 6) but no plastic wrap, bags, or film.

And what about the things that are less straightforward than plastic bottles, like toothpaste tubes?  Thankfully, TerraCycle exists.  You can join a brigade, or waste collection drive, and contribute all sorts of items you would normally trash (For example, TerraCycle has a brigade for Neosporin tubes!).

There’s more: PLA

greenwarePLA is Polylactic Acid, also known as biodegradable plastic.  It comes from renewable sources such as corn and tapioca root.  Only about 20% of plastic bottles are recycled, the rest ending up in landfills and our oceans.  A biodegradable alternative is a step in the right direction.

Since MOM’s launched Stop the Stuff in 2010, we stopped selling bottled water and have taken many steps to eliminate our plastic waste.  We use PLA for our produce bags, sample cups, and Naked Lunch.

Be aware: PLA is not usually recyclable in your blue bin, nor are PLA bags to be recycled with traditional plastic bags.  As my county plainly states, “we cannot accept for recycling any biodegradable or compostable plastic items.”  I hope this will change soon.  In the meantime, you are welcome to compost your PLA or bring it to MOM’s to put in our compost bins.

Happy recycling!

About Eva

Chief Marketing Consultant for North America's North America’s most recognized women entrepreneurs and leaders in the women helping women economy.
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2 Responses to The Mystery Behind the Numbers

  1. Notworldly says:

    The Daily Green explains about recycle numbers. The containers used by Mom’s for many of their packaged bulk bins, have the #7, which can be suspect or dangerous. The manager of one of the local stores has been contacted about this. Here’s hoping they use a safer container for the food, in the future.

    • Eva says:

      Hi there, thanks for your comment! #7 does not indicate suspect or dangerous plastic. Rather, #7 is a catch-all for different types of plastic that do not fit into the other # categories. Some of these plastics may be dangerous, but others, such as the PLA that MOM’s uses, are not dangerous or harmful in any way. “Outlier” plastics such as PLA must be designated by #7 so that recyclers know that it’s not a type of plastic that can be recycled in a traditional facility. In other words, if a container has #7 it could be any number of different plastics!

      Perhaps in the future there will be more number designations to differentiate between plastics that are now lumped together as #7.

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