The story of plastic recycling is a confusing one. What is and is not acceptable can change from month to month, and can change dramatically depending on where the plastics go.
Our plastics go to a Waste Management facility north of Seattle. They take more plastics than many other facilities.
• All plastic code numbers 1-7
• All types of plastic nursery pots and trays (clean)
• All types of plastic film and plastic bags when BUNDLED TOGETHER
• Bubble wrap
• Packing foam
• Anything tied up in opaque plastic bags
• PVC pipe, any kind of commercial/industrial pipe or tubes
• Anything with significant food contamination
Everything else, as long as it’s clean, is fair game.
THE REALITIES OF PLASTIC RECYCLING
The bottom line is that while plastic is recyclable, it’s still not a good thing for the environment. Every time a plastic item is recycled, it degrades to a lesser form of plastic. That means even the highest grades of plastic (1,2 and 3) are still only recyclable a few times—as opposed to an aluminum can which is almost infinitely recyclable.
Another problem is that only a small fraction of the plastic containers we use ever get recycled. According to an organization working to ban plastic water bottles, only 23% of them are ever recycled at all.
Most end up in land fills, and lots escape into the environment where they become toxins. When they get into rivers lakes and oceans the breakdown into smaller and smaller bits and frequently are ingested by wildlife. The worst cases of this are occurring in the central Pacific Ocean, in the “gyre” where millions of tons of plastics are swirling around in circular ocean currents.
Worst of all, much of the garbage in the world is still incinerated. Burning plastic can concentrate the toxins in plastic, and introduce the worst thing of all—dioxins—into the atmosphere.
People are starting to stand up to the plastics industry (an incredibly powerful industry that categorically denies any negative impact). Communities all over the Country have implemented bans on plastic shopping bags. The city of San Francisco last year banned the sale of plastic beverage containers on city property. The city of Brookline MA is moving in that direction as well.
Another travesty is Styrofoam. Virtually impossible to recycle, Styrofoam disintegrates quickly becoming a toxin faster than most other plastics. It also is a major source of litter as its light weight allows it to be blown far and wide by the wind.
All plastics are made from petro-chemicals. These resources are limited, and the industries that make them create massive amounts of pollution.
There is very little to like about plastic containers–despite their presumed recyclability.