Are Plastics REALLY Recyclable?

We get asked a lot of questions about plastic these days. Everyone is getting smarter and better educated about the recyclability (or non-recyclability) of plastics; but there is a lot of greenwashing going on, which leads to questions.

At ORS/Exchange we accept plastics #1, #2 and #5 in the co-mingled recycling bins. That is largely because the Recology sorting facility we use accepts these plastics.

Number 1 and #2 are the most easily recycled plastics, and have the highest rate of recycling, around 29% according to the EPA.

Number 5 plastics are recyclable—but it’s more difficult, and recycling rates are far lower. According to an article in Grist the EPA says only 2.7% of #5 plastic packaging actually gets recycled. That has ORS and San Juan County discussing re-defining #5 plastics as trash, rather than recycling.

Currently ORS/Exchange does not recycle plastic film—plastic bags, cling wrap, etc. However there is a pilot program in Friday Harbor that is collecting these #4 plastic films.  While recyclable (famously for Trex brand plastic lumber), a recent expose by ABC News showed that virtually none of the plastic film collected at supermarkets and big chain stores like Target and Walmart was actually getting recycled.

No matter what the plastics industry tells you, there really are no good single-use plastics. As a consumer we need to purchase goods that are packaged in truly recyclable glass, metal or paper packages.