Think Twice Before Recycling That Plastic | Waste Wise Products

Think Twice Before Recycling That Plastic

Recycling plastic keeps dangerous chemicals out of the environment, reduces our need for fossil fuels and saves energy used in plastic production. So is there a reason you would not want to throw plastic in a recycle container? Actually yes.

Early Efforts

To understand the problem we have to go back and look at the history of recycling. The earliest residential recycling programs required consumers to sort items by type with a separate recycle container for each material such as plastic, paper and glass. That allowed city waste disposal programs to distribute each waste stream to an appropriate processing center and keep recycling costs low.

However the sorting was, frankly, a pain in the neck. For example, you couldn’t throw window envelopes in the paper recycling bin without first tearing out the little sheet of cellophane covering the window. Many households couldn’t be bothered to do the pre-sorting so participation was very low. Cities responded by trying to find ways to reduce the amount of sorting consumers had to do.

The Change In Plastic Collection

Another example of pre-sorting is that, until recently, most recycling programs didn’t accept all types of plastic. As you probably know, each plastic item is required to have a number that identifies the type of plastic. Cities knew there was a market only for #1 and #2 plastics so wouldn’t collect the rest. Unfortunately when residents couldn’t find the numbers, didn’t understand the system, or just didn’t want to look it meant plastic ended up in the wrong bin.

Lately the standard is to accept all types of plastic, with only a few limitations. For instance most cities don’t want plastic bags in the recycle container, but will accept any other plastic regardless of number. The hope was that removing another pre-sorting step would mean more plastic went into the recovery stream.

The Truth About Plastics

What many consumers don’t realize is that just because you throw plastic into the recycle container doesn’t mean it’s getting reprocessed. The fact is there is still a market only for #1 and #2 plastics, though there is a growing market for #5. Other plastics contaminate the processing so have to be removed by the recycling plants.

Critics point out this new system increases the cost of recycling as workers sort through plastic streams. It increases fossil fuel use because the unusable plastics have to be shipped to the recycle center and then shipped again to the landfill. Other object to the implied dishonesty in collecting waste in recycling bins without the intention of reprocessing it.

Just because your city takes all plastics doesn’t mean you should put all plastics in the recycle container. Take the time to pre-sort and put only #1, #2 and, if there is a plant in your area that processes it, #5 plastics into the bin. You reduce recycling costs and lower carbon emissions generated when transporting the waste.

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