Ever wonder where all of that plastic, glass and paper end up once they’ve been collected from the curb? You might be inclined to think it all goes to a recycling facility, subsequently being reused as materials for park benches or packaging for parcels. The reality is that while much of your everyday recycling does end up getting recycled, most of it does not.
There are many reasons why recycling is not as efficient in reality as many would have you believe, but one such reason is that not all glass, plastic and paper are made equally. It’s helpful to us in our everyday language to refer to anything made out of plastic as ‘plastic.’ Besides, you’d probably get a few awkward sideways glances if you referred to your takeaway lunch container as ‘polyethylene terephthalate.’ To recycling facilities, however, the exact type of plastic, glass or paper is important because it conveys information about the material composition and whether or not it can be recycled at that facility.
This is why the use of recycling codes has become commonplace, and you can see this for yourself by looking at just about any plastic product you may have in your home. What are these recycling codes and what do they mean?
Is all plastic recyclable?
The short answer is no, not all plastic is recyclable. In fact, most plastic is not recycled at all, even if the plastic is designated to be recyclable. The plastic recycling rate in the United States is around 9% as of 2018. Among all recyclables, plastic makes up only around 4.5% of all recycled waste in the United States, or a total of 3.09 million tons.
As a proportion of total waste generated in the United States, plastic makes up around 12%, or 35.68 million tons (fom a total of 292.4 million tons) as of 2018. In summary, most plastic is not recycled at all, regardless of whether or not it is indeed recyclable.
Plastic recycling codes
Plastic is a useful term in everyday language; the exact material composition of plastic, not so much. To a recycling facility, however, the use of plastic recycling codes helps them to sort and process the different types of plastic. These recycling codes are either printed on the product label or stamped into the plastic itself and look like the typical ‘three arrows’ recycling triangle, within which is a numerical code and below the triangle, a resin code denoting the material composition of the plastic.
Below are the seven different types of plastic used in the United States along with their resin codes and some everyday examples of each:
|1||PETE||PET||Polyethylene terephthalate||Food & beverage containers||Yes|
|2||HDPE||PE-HE||High-density polyethylene||Bleach bottles, thick plastic bags||Yes|
|3||V||PVC||Polyvinyl chloride||Plumbing pipes, shrink wrap||Rarely|
|4||LDPE||PE-LD||Low-density polyethylene||Squeeze bottles, thin plastic bags||Sometimes|
|5||PP||PP||Polypropylene||Medicine bottles, Tupperware containers||
|6||PS||PS||Polystyrene||Styrofoam plates & cups||Rarely|
|7||OTHER||O||Other||Sunglasses, DVDs, nylon||Rarely|
* Varies by location and recycling authority
Many of the most popular types of plastic used in everyday items can be recycled by most recycling facilities in the United States. Plastics such as 1-PET, 2-HDPE and 5-PP are so ubiquitous that it’s hard to think of how we’d live without them. It’s helpful, then, that these are generally quite easy to recycle and most municipal sanitation departments will pick them up from the curbside during routine collection.
Some of the plastics that are far harder to recycle may also be common. 3-PVC, for example, is widely used in plumbing and residential & commercial siding, but it’s often a lot harder to recycle.
If you’re unsure of whether or not your city or county collects certain types of plastic in your recycling bin, visit their website or give the sanitation department a call to inquire.
Glass recycling codes
Around 31% of the 12.3 million tons of glass waste generated in the United States was recycled in 2018, constituting around 5% of all total recycling in the United States. Glass also comes in many different forms as it is used in everything from beer bottles to laminated windshield glass, but its material composition can vary widely which in turn makes it potentially challenging to recycle.
The three main types of glass are classified as:
- GL-70: Mixed Glass
- GL-71: Clear Glass
- GL-72: Green Glass
Most municipal collection programs allow residents to place all sorts of mixed glass together in the recycling bin, since it will be subsequently sorted later on at the recycling facility. Just be sure not to place broken glass inside as this can pose a hazard.
Paper recycling codes
Around 23% of all household waste generated in the United States is paper, making it the number one most tossed away type of trash by far. The good news is that there is a 68% recycling rate for all paper and paperboard, constituting around 66% of all total recycling in the United States, so it’s being recycled at much higher rates than most other waste.
In terms of recycling codes, there are only three paper recycling codes to take note of:
- PAP-20: Cardboard
- PAP-21: Mixed Paper
- PAP-22: Plain Paper
The EPA states that most paper can indeed be recycled, including greasy pizza boxes. This includes envelopes with plastic windows, magazines, journals, newspapers, and most other ordinary paper and cardboard packaging. Just make sure to remove any food scraps from paper waste before placing in your recycling bin. One notable exception is that laminated, glossy paper such as gift boxes or gift wrap cannot be recycled.
How to get rid of recyclables in an eco-friendly way
If you’ve got a huge pile of glass, paper, plastic or other recyclables on your property, there are a few ways to get rid of it. You could use up the full capacity of your recycling bin and gradually get rid of it over time, but what if the recycling pickup in your city doesn’t collect a certain type of recyclable?
In these cases, one of the most efficient ways to get rid of recyclables in an eco-friendly way is to call a junk hauler near you. Professional junk removal companies use efficient methods to dispose of unwanted junk, including recyclables, which includes diverting as much waste as possible away from landfills and instead either donating junk to charity, dumping at a recycling facility, or selling items for scrap value.