Let’s face it. Most of the things we touch these days are made out of some sort of plastic material. And every single piece of plastic ever made still exists. But 91% of that has NEVER been recycled.
We know there are valiant recycling efforts being made around the world, and with the growing awareness of the plastic epidemic, most cities have a designated recycling program put in place. But can all plastics be recycled?
The answer is no.
Just because the item in question has a triangle made out of three arrows on it, doesn’t mean it is recyclable- it just means it’s plastic. So it is important to know the difference between what we can and can’t recycle. And with certain plastics leaching out harmful chemicals, it is important to know what exactly you are touching and putting into your body.
Especially since most of the harmful plastics cannot be recycled anyway.
…But what ARE the different kinds of plastics?
POLYETHYLENE TEREPHTHALATE (PET) – Very common plastic. Even though these are recyclable, you do not want to reuse them over and over.
Used to make: water bottles, soda bottles, fruit juices, cooking oils, ketchup, beer bottles, mouthwash bottles, salad dressings, (condiments, etc.).
- Only about 25% of PETs are recycled every year.
Alternatives: reusable bottles or drink out of glass bottles and aluminum cans, glass salad dressing and condiment bottles.
HIGH-DENSITY POLYETHYLENE (HDPE) – Thicker plastic. Deemed the ‘safest’ plastic out there.
Used to make: milk jugs, toys, containers, laundry detergent, plastic bags, park benches, picnic tables, truck bed liners, weather-resistant plastic, shampoo, conditioner, body wash bottles, bleaching agents, raised garden beds.
- 30-35% of HDPEs are recycled every year in the U.S.
Alternatives: milk cartons, boxed laundry detergent, fabric bags, refill household products at your nearest bulk store.
POLYPROPYLENE (PP) – Most common form of plastic
Used to make: chip bags, cereal bags, diapers, bottle tops, butter, margarine, yogurt containers, STRAWS, packing tape, luggage, bumpers and most exterior borders of cars, rope, motor oil bottles.
- Even though most common type of plastic, only 3% of PP is recycled in the U.S. each year!
- PP is safe for reuse, so instead of recycling just yet, get the most use out of it by refilling them at bulk stores until you absolutely can’t anymore!
Alternatives: REUSABLE STRAWS, reusable water bottles, cloth diapers
POLYVINYL CHLORIDE (PVC) – Softer plastic and highly tolerant of sunlight and extreme weather and also HIGHLY TOXIC. It is called the ‘Poison Plastic’ for a reason.
Used to make: computer wire sheathing, plastic wrap, teething rings, inflatable pool toys, tubes, pipes, garden hoses, window frames, arbors, raised beds, trellises,
- Only 1% of all PVC material is recycled!
Even though PVC is not recyclable, it can be re-purposed in certain applications. Just beware of the leching toxins and avoid use with food or children.
Alternatives: switch out your plastic wrap for a beeswax wrap or a silicone lid
LOW-DENSITY POLYETHYLENE (LDPE) – Not as durable as HDPE, and hasn’t been commonly recyclable in the past. But more companies are adapting to recycling LDPE so keep an eye out at a facility near you!
Used to make: Grocery bags, garment bags, bread bags, plastic lumber, landscaping boards, floor tiles, bubble wrap, garbage bags, squeezable bottles, furniture
Alternatives: replace grocery bags with reusable ones, sandwich bags with beeswax or silicone or metal alternatives, use a cloth bag when you go to a bakery for a loaf of bread
OTHER [Bisphenol A (BPA), Polycarbonate, and LEXAN] – This number includes many different kinds of plastics.
Used to make: nylon, acrylic, fiberglass, bullet-proof materials, DVDs, sunglasses, certain food containers, signs, displays, (some are recyclable and some are not)
!!STAY AWAY FROM BPA!! BPA is a xenoestrogen, also known as an endocrine disruptor. (We will get more in depth of this epidemic later, but have you ever noticed that girls are developing and going into puberty at a much younger age? It’s because of the BPAs!) Look on the label for “PC 7”. used in baby bottles and sippy cups be very careful. Even if labeled as ‘non-leaching’, when heated, harmful chemicals may still be possible.
PLA- a new form of compostable plastic made out of corn starch. But don’t be mistaken by the terms. Even though it is compostable, it is NOT RECYCLABLE.
*Should always avoid #7s when it comes to children’s food and toys*
DO NOT USE, DO NOT RECYCLE.
POLYSTYRENE (PS) – a.k.a. Styrofoam – Although versatile and used heavily around the world, Styrofoam is made up of HIGHLY DANGEROUS CARCINOGENS. When you heat it in the microwave, it leaches styrene that is absorbed into your food. Styrene has been linked to reproductive system dysfunction.
It is toxic to both humans and animals and has absolutely no reuse value.
As a civilization, we need to stop using styrofoam all together and find a better alternative.
Used to make: Togo boxes, togo cups, coffee cups, egg cartons, packing peanuts, rigid foam insulation, underlay for laminate flooring, disposable plates, meat trays, aspirin bottles, CD cases
Alternatives: reusable coffee cups, cardboard togo containers (or bring your own!), compostable or REUSABLE cutlery (everyone should have a set!)
Please make sure you are rinsing the food debris out of containers before recycling.
It is also important to note that you should NEVER BURN PLASTIC. OF ANY KIND.
We hope this information is helpful to the community. We encourage you to keep making the effort to recycle not only plastics, but everything that you can. Every effort counts. You count. The Future counts.