Recycling Plastic Made Easy


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A life surrounded by plastic! Where ever one lives world over, a thing that has become a part of our life is “plastic”. We get milk, meats, vegetables, detergents, cleaning supplies, lotions, medicines, you name it… anything one uses, it mostly comes covered in plastic!

I grew up in a minimum-plastic world with some plastic boxes containers etc around but people mostly stuck to steel, aluminum etc which were traditional allies. But then things changed plastic charmed one and all with its ease to use, lightness, cheap prices, longevity and of course the colors! The mom and pop store that by today’s standards were really green; they packaged their goods in newspaper! Tied it up using just strings! We all took bags when we went Grocery shopping! Once plastic bags arrived they all took to plastic like fish to water… There were even plastic bags blown up and used as balloons for decoration here and there. Now Plastic bags have been banned in the city I grew up in, after it clogged the drains and made the city roads canals during monsoon, well am glad it has been done better late than never. But Plastic still is very much around everywhere we go. California is on the way to become the first US state to ban plastic bags.

So let us get to know Plastic better so we can recycle it better:

What is Plastic?

plastic material is synthetic or semi-synthetic polymer used in the manufacturing of industrial products and may contain other substances to improve performance and/or reduce costs. It is made from natural gases and crude oil (around 4% of all crude oil is used in the manufacture of plastic!). There are many different kinds of plastics as we look around. Plastics are good for storage and are used as we know from food to cleaners and others.

Almost all the plastic containers and bottles we use have the triangular recycle sign imprinted on it along with a number in the center when it comes to Plastic. I have wondered what it stood for. On researching found out it was for recycling purposes and referred to the type of plastic as per composition.

So how do we know what each number means?

Before reading further do a simple test: Walk around your home with a piece of paper, write down the number in the center of the triangle on a piece of paper and come back we will compare notes and see what we have around us.

#1 – PET or PETE: polyethylene terephthalate is used in many soft drink, water, and juice bottles. It’s easily recycled, doesn’t leach, and accepted by just about all plastic recycling centers. (In my house that means water bottles, oil containers, sauce bottles, spice bottles, cleaner spray bottles etc…)

#2 – HDPE: high-density polyethylene is used in milk jugs, detergent and shampoo bottles; it hasn’t been found to leach and is widely accepted and easily recycled. (Milk jugs, lotions (sauve), generic pill bottles, pain-rubs, glue , most of my cleaning supplies & I also found some Rubber-maid containers with 2)

#3 – PVC: Vinyl or polyvinyl chloride is a bad, bad plastic. Soft PVC often contains and can leach toxic phthalates, and can also off-gas chemicals into the air. It’s used in some cling wraps, many children’s toys, fashion accessories, shower curtains,blister packs and detergent and spray bottles. To top it off, PVC isn’t recyclable, either. (Shower curtains and blister packs [those plastic bubbles which are fun to burst- cool stress reliever too! Now I need to wash my hands after bursting it] are all I managed to find with #3!)

#4 – LDPE: low-density polyethylene is used most plastic shopping bags, some cling wraps, some baby bottles and reusable drink & food containers. It hasn’t been found to leach, and is recyclable at most recycling centers (and many grocery stores take the shopping bags) but generally not in curbside programs. If you absolutely must use plastic wrap, stick to a brand that doesn’t employ PVC. Recycling code #3 and “V” are dead giveaways that it does.  (Did not find any in my home, cling-wraps I stopped using them some time back)

#5 – PP: polypropylene can be found in some baby bottles, lots of yogurt and deli takeout containers, and many reusable food and drink containers (like, the Tupperware- and Rubbermaid-types). It hasn’t been found to leach, and is recyclable in some curbside programs and most recycling centers. (The orange pill bottles from CVS!, Rubber-maid water bottles, Olay moisturizer bottle)

#6 – PS: polystyrene is used in takeout food containers, egg containers, and some plastic cutlery, among other things. It has been found to leach styrene–a neurotoxin and possible human carcinogen–and has been banned in cities like Portland, Ore. and San Francisco. Still, it persists and is not often recyclable in curbside programs, though some recycling centers will take it. (None found)

#7 – Everything else, and this is where the waters get a bit murky. First, and perhaps most notably, #7 includes PC, or polycarbonate, which made  headlines lately because it’s used in Nalgene’s reusable water bottles and has been found to leach bisphenol A, a hormone disruptor that mimics estrogen; as such, Nalgene is switching to HDPE, a less harmful plastic. (Lots of everything else’s, plastic covers, wrappers, other plastic containers etc…)

With #7 though you’re less likely to see them in the grocery store than some of the others, the growing crop of bio-plastics (made from plant-based material rather than the usual petroleum base for plastic) also falls under this umbrella, for now, at least. Most common of these is PLA, or polyactide, which is most commonly made with corn. It isn’t easily recycled, though it can be composted in industrial composting operations–your kitchen composter most likely doesn’t create enough heat to help it break down.

So, while cutting back on plastic packaging/ using recyclables is the greenest way to go, when it comes to buying new, it is recommended one sticks to the less toxic, more recyclable numbers. On the positive side today 80% Americans have access to Plastic recycling (not sure how many make use of it). 11 American states have a 5¢ to 15¢ deposit on plastic and glass bottled drinks etc… and those states have the highest recycling rates too. The Container Recycling Institute thinks a nationwide bottle deposit law would create the incentive to recycle, especially when it comes to plastic bottles, and ease the burden on taxpayers, who pay for cleaning up litter.

Watch Plastic being recycled

Until that comes into effect try not to buy plastic whenever possible and if you do remember to recycle, it will help reducing in the usage of fuel and add less to the landfills. It is time to stop using petroleum based products if you ask me.

Things I do to reduce using plastic:

  1. I have a re-useable water bottle; I do not buy bottled drinks any more.
  2. Take a shopping bag with me whenever I go shopping and even when I get take-out (they only look at you weird once, then they smile 🙂 )
  3. Sort out plastic separately when recycling and tie it up in a separate bag.
  4. Try not to use zip-lock bags, and re-use them multiple times before recycling them.
  5. I re-use plastic containers (especially the ones with 1 in the center) for storing dry food stuff.
  6. Stopped using cling wrap (it is one of those things I used because it was there J)
  7. If I see a bottle when am out walking, I tend to pick it up and bring it home for recycling.
  8. I know am still not doing all I can and I am taking steps towards being plastic free some time soon.


Some Plastic facts:

  • Plastic was first manufactured in 1855 by an Englishman Alexander Parkes from Cellulose and was called Parkesine! It made its world debut in the 1962 world’s fair in London.
  • Today’s plastic has its origin in Bakelite a synthetic polymer made from phenol and formaldehyde, along with additives like wood flour, slate, asbestos etc invented in 1909 by Leo Hendrik Baekeland, a Belgian-born American living in New York state. Bakelite was the first purely synthetic material not based on or derived from naturally occurring substances.
  • The word plastic has its roots in Greek ‘plastikos’ meaning fit for molding which in turn was derived from ‘plastos’ meaning molded.
  • Plastic should not be used for cooking in the Microwave, use it strictly for re-heating only and make sure the plastic is microwave safe.
  • It a land-fill plastic can sit around for 1000 years without deteriorating! (Just imagine centuries later archaeologists could find plastic intact in any one of their digs!!)
  • It’s estimated we use 1.6 million barrels of oil every year, just making plastic bottled water.
  • More than 1,400 quality products made with or packaged in post-consumer recycled plastics are now commercially available, including single-use cameras, park benches, sweaters, jeans, videocassettes, detergent bottles and children’s toys.
  • Only about 40% of the plastic which is send into recycling gets recycled, the rest ends up in the land fill.
  • Recycling 1 ton of plastic saves 7.4 cubic yards of landfill space.
  • Recycling a one-gallon plastic milk jug will save enough energy to keep a 100-watt bulb burning for 11 hours.
  • During Keep America Beautiful 2008 Great American Cleanup, volunteers recovered and recycled 189,000,000 PET (plastic) bottles that littered highways, waterways and parks.

Next time you are about to throw plastic into the trash bin, remember 1000 years. Reduce, Reuse and Recycle! Live Green! for a better tomorrow! 🙂


Sources :   americanchemistry     Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy

If interested in BPA related stuff read this when in 2008 Nalgene a US company phased out its water bottles after it was found to leach Bisphenol-A(BPA).

To find recycled plastic products check out this list

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