Plastic recycling from the Green Guide
Plastics are used everywhere today, from packaging to car parts to building construction, and production is growing rapidly, leading to increased waste. That’s why plastic recycling, which has been widely available since the early 1990s, is more important than ever.
-Plastic production is up. A record amount of plastic was produced in the U.S. in 2007, a total of about 116 billion pounds, according to the American Chemistry Council.
-Most plastic is made from nonrenewable resources. Plastics are typically made from fossil fuels, including natural gas and oil.
-Plastic waste is increasing. The amount of plastic in municipal solid waste has increased from less than 1 percent of the total in 1960 to about 12 percent in 2006, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.
-#1-PET plastic recycling rates are down. While the total number of plastic bottles recycled in the US has steadily increased over time, the recycling rate of the most widely sold and collected type, #1-PET, has dropped in the last decade, according to the American Chemistry Council. In 1995, one in four PET containers were recycled, but in 2006, less than one in five were recycled, says the Container Recycling Institute. This means that, of the 72 billion PET plastic beverage bottles purchased in 2006, about 50 billion ended up in landfills, incinerators or as litter. See the table below for more recycling statistics.
-We have the capacity. According to the American Chemistry Council, we’re using 86 percent of our nation’s recycling capacity to recycle #1-PET containers, and 66 percent of our capacity to recycle #2-HDPE bottles. That means the plastic you put out at the curb or drop off at a local facility is most likely being recycled, as promised, and there’s room for more.
-There are markets for recycled plastics. Most types of plastics can be recycled into new products. Once collected and sorted, plastic is processed into small pellets or flakes and sold to manufacturers. The majority of collected plastic, #1-PET and #2-HDPE bottles and containers, is turned into fiber, including carpet and clothing, as well as nonfood containers, including detergent, motor oil, and household cleaner bottles. To learn more about recycled plastics, see the table below.
HOW YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
1. Get to know your plastic. Since the late 1980s, many plastic products have been labeled with one of seven codes indicating the type of material they’re made from. These are the familiar numbers and letters inside “chasing arrows” found on the bottom of plastic containers. The most commonly recycled types are #1-PET and #2-HDPE, while the other five are much less likely to be collected.
The following table explains the codes, common packaging and recycling uses, and recycling rates for 2006, the most recent year available:
|Number||Type of plastic||Common packaging uses||Amount recycled in 2006||Common recycled use|
|#1||Polyethylene terephthalate (PETE or PET)||Beverage and food bottles and containers||24 percent||Textiles, including clothing and carpet; film, food, and beverage containers; luggage.|
|#2||High density polyethylene (HDPE)||Beverage and food bottles and containers; dish and laundry detergent bottles; grocery, trash and retail bags||26 percent||Nonfood containers, including laundry detergent, shampoo, conditioner, and motor oil bottles; plastic lumber, pipe, buckets, crates, flower pots, film, recycling bins, floor tiles.|
|#3||Polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl)||Food and non-food packaging; medical tubing; siding, window frames, floor tiles and carpet backing||less than 1 percent||Packaging, loose-leaf binders, decking, paneling, gutters, mud flaps, film, floor tiles and mats, electrical equipment, traffic cones, garden hoses, mobile home skirting|
|#4||Low density polyethylene (LDPE)||Dry cleaning, bread and frozen food bags, squeezable bottles||less than 1 percent||Shipping envelopes, garbage can liners, floor tile, plastic lumber, film, compost bins, trash cans|
|#5||Polypropylene (PP)||Food and medicine containers and bottles||9 percent||Automobile battery cases, signal lights, brooms, brushes, ice scrapers, oil funnels, bicycle racks, rakes|
|#6||Polystyrene (PS)||Cups, plates, cutlery, compact disc jackets, egg cartons||(data not available)||Thermometers, light switch plates, thermal insulation, egg cartons, vents, rulers, license plate frames, foam packing and dishware|
|#7||Other (often polycarbonate (PC))||Reusable water bottles, beverage and food bottles||(data not available)||Bottles, plastic lumber|
2. Choose plastics that can be recycled in your community. Most communities accept #1 and #2 plastics. For higher numbers it depends on the municipality.
3. Follow your community’s recycling guidelines, especially if not all types of plastics are collected there. If you’re not sure which ones are accepted, you can find out through your local Department of Sanitation or Department of Public Works. You can also learn about curbside recycling programs in your area by visiting Earth 911 and typing in your ZIP code.
Note that more and more retailers are accepting plastic bags for recycling, too. Find out where to recycle them in your area by visiting PlasticBagRecycling.org.
4. Give preference to products made from recycled content. Whenever possible, use products made from recycled plastic. Look for those labeled “made with recycled content” and especially those “made with post-consumer recycled content,” which are made with materials that have actually been used, rather than with manufacturing waste that never reached consumers.
5. Reduce when you can. Try to cut down on the amount of plastics you use in the first place. Alternatives, such as reusable shopping bags and water bottles, and refillable containers can go a long way toward reducing the amount of plastics that enter the waste stream.
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