Facts About Recycling Plastic

Quick Facts
1. Dyes, fillers, and other additives are difficult to economically remove from plastic polymers.

2. Plastics require greater processing to be recycled than materials like glass and metal.

3. PET flakes are used as raw material in the manufacturing of polyester clothing, pillows, carpets, and sometimes new PET bottles.

4.  PET bottles can be used as is for solar disinfection (SODIS) of drinking water in developing countries.  Water-filled bottles should be exposed to direct sunlight for at least 6 hours.

5.  Bacteria will likely evolve the ability to metabolize plastics at much faster rates.

6.  In 2006 a record high 1 billion kilograms of plastic bottles were recycled.

7.  In the United States 70% of plastics are made from a byproduct of refining domestic natural gas.

8. Americans use 25,000,000,000 plastic bottles every year.

9. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a huge mass of garbage, estimated around 80% plastic, located between San Francisco and Hawaii.

10. The most commonly recycled plastics are PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and HDPE (high-density polyethylene).

11.  More than 50% of the polyester carpet manufactured in the United States is made from recycled plastic bottles.

Recyling Symbols and Recyclability of Different Plastics

plastic 1PET or PETE (Polyethylene Terepthalate): Indicated by the number 1, this type of plastic is the most commonly recycled plastic. The items that are typically composed of this plastic include food and drink containers.

plastic 2HDPE (High Density Polyethylene): This type of plastic is represented by the number 2, and bottles containing personal care items are usually made using this plastic. Many municipalities recycle HDPE plastic without a problem, though some may have restrictions on the types of bottles accepted.

plastic 3PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride): Consumer items, such as heavier food containers and bottles, as well as medical products, windows, siding, and piping can be made from this type of plastic, represented by the number 3. The chemicals within this type of plastic make it highly toxic, however it is rarely recycled because it is difficult to find organizations that will do so.

plastic 4LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene): Indicated by the code 4.  Number 4 plastics are often found in everything from carpets to plastic bags and food packaging. Plastic bags are usually accepted at stores where recycling programs are available. Otherwise, this type of plastic is often not accepted by most municipalities’ recycling pickup services.

plastic 5PP (Polypropylene): Many food containers, as well as medicine bottles, are made from number 5 plastics, which are usually quite easy to recycle.

plastic 6PS (Polystyrene): Represented by the number 6, this type of plastic is found in many items, including CD cases and disposable food utensils. It is also found in Styrofoam. Some, but not all, municipal curbside pickup services will recycle this type of plastic.

plastic 7All other resins and multi-materials: The number 7 represents any plastic that doesn’t fit into any of the other six categories of plastics. This type of plastic is found in a variety of items, such as sunglasses, nylon, signs, DVDs, electronic devices, and very large bottles. For the most part, these plastics are not recycled, though some programs are available that now do collect them from consumers.

Environmental Pollution

Plastic pollution is a major environmental concern that can be curbed by recycling plastic materials, such as bottles, containers, and bags. However, it is not always easy to find businesses that will collect and recycle certain types of plastic, making it difficult for the average consumer to recycle all of their plastic goods.

While the need to recycle plastic is clear, it’s unfortunate that not all municipalities collect every type of plastic for recycling. In fact, they may place restrictions upon the types of plastics that are collected for recycling, forcing the consumer to have no other choice but to discard the plastic into the waste stream. When this occurs, the plastics end up in landfills or somewhere in the environment, leading to ecological damage and injuries to wildlife.

The number embossed onto a plastic item can be used to determine the type of plastic it is made from.  The code also indicates how the material can be recycled, whether it means finding a special facility that will accept it or leaving it curbside for municipal pickup.