Plastic Recycling 101

Plastic Is Everywhere

Plastic is ubiquitous in today’s world. It’s used to make shopping bags, beverage and food containers, toys, furniture, storage containers, plates, utensils, brushes and just about anything and everything imaginable. Plastic products are created by a host of different molding methods that include blow, injection, and vacuum molding. These molding methods, among other characteristics, make one plastic product incompatible with other plastic products and/or limit the ability of some plastics to be recycled into another product.

It’s a little more complicated than this, but all most of us need to know is which plastics make the most sense to recycle in curbside programs. There’s a simple approach that is accurate about 99.9% of the time. The only plastics wanted in curbside recycling are those with either 1) A screw top or 2) Marked #2 HDPE.

Primarily, this means containers holding the products we use in the kitchen, bath, or laundry; products we routinely buy, use, and then discard the empty container. Once you’ve determined that a given plastic container is recyclable, recycling that item should become second nature; confidently toss it into the recycling cart without a second thought each time it’s empty.

Pretty straight forward, right? All other plastic goes in the trash except for plastic bags, which ideally, should always be returned to a designated container at your local retail store. If that’s not feasible, they, too, go in the trash. For details on why plastic bags need to be handled separately.

Plastic Bags

Why dispose of plastic bags only at Publix Supermarket or other retail store collection containers? Because it’s a single kind of material that requires no sorting. The opposite is true of materials in your curbside recycling, because sorting is required. And in the sorting process, what happens? Clogged roller equipment that forces a facility shutdown to remove plastic bags and other pliable material. This is costly and hazardous to workers; plus the bags are discarded as trash rather than recycled into a new product.

The Right Plastics

When the right plastics are collected, baled, and marketed, they get pelletized and turned into new products such as plastic lumber, carpets, toys, clothing, reusable shopping bags, traffic cones and much more.