Plastics Recycling

Plastics—They're everywhere

The population of the US grew about 63% from 177 million in 1960 to 280.5 million in 2000. Contrast that with our use of plastics; we used more than 10 times what we produced and used in 1960. According to the EPA, more than 22.4 million tons of plastics were produced in 1998, but less than 6 percent were recycled. Mountains of landfill are being created every year from the plastics we discard.

Do you wonder why some plastics are recyclable, but not all? Do you know what all those numbers in the triangles on plastic bags and containers mean? The following table may help shed a little light on what they mean and what you can do with them.

Name Used for Recyclability Notes
PET—polyethylene terephthalate Soda and beverage bottles, other food containers and bottles. Recycled into fiberfill for sleeping bags and jackets as well as fill for car bumpers. Also for new bottles, polyester for fabrics, and carpet. PET is the most easily recycled plastic. Bottles with necks are "bottle grade" and are desired by remanufacturers because they are easily melted, pelletized, and are more easily reused.
HDPE—high density polyethylene Milk and water jugs, containers for laundry detergents, shampoo, and motor oil. Clear containers are easily recycled into new containers. Colored containers are used in plastic lumber and pipe, rope, toys. Also used for lawn and garden edging. Easily melted and pelletized for use in new bottles and plastic pipe.
PVC—polyvinyl chloride Used for clear food packaging, bottles, and vinyl pipes, shower curtains, shrink wrap, etc. Is also commonly used for flooring, home siding, and window and door frames.

Almost impossible to recycle due to additives.

This ubiquitous plastic is implicated in cancer, birth defects, genetic changes, and other health problems. Dioxin (a potent carcinogen), ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride are all created during its manufacture or disposal.
LDPE—low density polyethelene Flexible plastic used in bread, frozen food, and grocery bags. Not usually recycled. According to the Chemical & Engineering News in 1996, almost 5% of each ton of LDPE produced is organic pollutants that need to be destroyed.
PP—Polypropylene Food containers like margarine tubs. (Also used in disposable diapers and outdoor carpet. Olefin is polypropylene, which is what Tyvek® is. You know the stuff they use to make envelopes and wrap houses.) Not readily recyclable. Because of the varieties of type and grade, achieving consistent quality during recycling is challenging. No known hazards outside the manufacturing process. As plastics go, it appears to be relatively innocuous.
PS—Polystyrene Rigid or formed plastics. Rigid types include CD cases and disposable cutlery. The formed type, styrofoam, is used for food containers, packaging, and insulation.

Reuse styrofoam packing peanuts, cutlery, when possible.

Recycling is possible but not economically viable for many companies.

Absorbed by food and is stored in body fat. Higher than average rates of lymphatic cancers for workers.
Other—Mixed. This is often a combination of resins. Includes polycarbonate. Mixed plastics often found in lids, medical storage containers, electronics, and water bottles. Mixed resin plastics are difficult, if not impossible, to recycle. Recycling relies on being able to sort and flake plastics of the same type. Varies.

Dealing with plastics

Plastics surround us in virtually every aspect of our lives and in every room in our homes. It's a matter of argument as far as the relative value of plastics and the potential havoc they might cause us from either a health or environmental perspective. If you find yourself leaning in a "less is more" direction, the following suggestions might be useful:

The wave of plastics can threaten to engulf you every time you go to the store, but even a modicum of preparation can eliminate a fair amount of plastic excess from your life.

Landfill is heavily impacted by construction. If you are looking for a contractor for your project, UpdateRenovate can help. Find out if your contractor recycles materials when possible.

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