You’re doing it. You’ve decided to clean up your carbon footprint by carrying a reusable water bottle around, turning off lights when you leave the room, and recycling those plastic bags! —Wait. Are you supposed to recycle that Target bag? What about that food wrapper? And what’s the deal with styrofoam? What does this fun symbol even mean?
Just because something has this symbol does not mean it is necessarily recyclable. And while recycling is a good thing, recycling properly is important, as well.
What are the numbers all about? Each number represents a different type of plastic. Plastics, in general, are synthetic materials created from the burning of petroleum, but, more recently, there has been a switch to materials derived from corn or potatoes aka better for the environment.
Let's dive in.
Plastic #1 - The Queen B, the star. Made from polyethylene terephthalate or your PET. Your PET can be picked up by most curbside recycling and is the stuff you find in plastic bottles. These are one time use products as they may leach carcinogens and are difficult to decontaminate.
Plastic #2 - High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) is the stuff that’s in milk jugs and laundry detergent containers. It’s really tough stuff and doesn’t break down when exposed to the elements. They are reusable and recyclable.
Plastic #3 - PVC or polyvinyl chloride. The stuff in garden hoses and piping. You should not reuse or recycle these guys as they can leach over time.
Plastic #4 - Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE) shrink wraps, squeeze-y bottles, bread bags. Check with your local recycling service to see if you can recycle these guys.
Plastic #5 - Regulation hottie. Polypropylene is super resilient and keeps your Cinnamon Toast Crunch fresh during the 2 hours it takes for you to demolish the whole bag. It’s also the container that Aunt Deb sends home with you after Thanksgiving, but asks to have back. Check to see if you can recycle this guy too or just give it back you mooch.
Plastic #6 - Polystyrene aka styrofoam. We know it best from Thai take-out containers and egg cartons. It’s inexpensive and lightweight and disperses easily in the natural environment. Not only does it pollute our water and beaches, but it also may leach carcinogens into food when heated in the microwave. It also can’t be recycled generally, so it sits in landfills and doesn’t decompose. This guy is bad news. Delete his number, move on.
Plastic #7 - Other. The Hufflepuff catch-all of plastics. This category is so big because it is filled with secrets. As a rule, don’t reuse these guys unless it says you can.
So now you know! Remember that recycling is the third step in the Three R’s. Start by reducing the amount of waste you produce, followed by reusing the products that you can. After that, recycle away!