June 22 – 28, 2018Vol. 20, No. 3

Recyclable Plastics

by Susan Littlefield

Most of us have learned to identify recyclable waste plastics by a number 1 through 7 within a triangle stamped somewhere on the item. The number identifies the resin or mixture of resins that make up the plastic content. Over the years of recycling history, we, as the source of these particular solid wastes have come to trust that if it's plastic and has a number on it, it will be recycled.

Never have these numbers been so important as they are now, but for an unfortunate reason: A major buyer of American discarded but recyclable plastics, the country of China, has all but closed the door on further buying because they discovered they've been buying bales and bales of impure content: plastics mixed with batteries or paper, plastics covered with food, and plastics with dirty diapers mixed in. Thus, they've had to re-sort and discard at tremendous cost.

The jury is still out as to just where the blame falls along the recycling highway from your house to China, but there are many fingers pointing to the ease, convenience and profitability of single-stream sorting, pick-up and processing that has been adopted by many municipalities across the country. What this has meant is for U.S. towns and cities, large and small, is that the market for certain plastics, particularly 3 through 7, has dried up and, while still collected as recyclables in many communities, are in fact being landfilled. So far, plastics numbered 1 and 2 are still collected and sold for recycling.

Is There Something You Can Do?

Studies show that most Americans care about recycling and want to do it correctly. If you count yourself as one of these, find out your town's or city's current recycling policies and practices and follow them. Stay in touch and try to understand burdensome or unfortunate changes as the result of a continuum of events starting well beyond your town or city boundaries. If you're a seasonal resident remember that recycling policies and practices at your temporary address may be (and probably are) different from those of your home town.

Regardless of your jurisdiction's policies, there are some best practices for you when it comes to recycling plastics:

Future articles will focus on other aspects of solid waste management, including disposal (e.g. landfilling) and diversion (ways to avoid landfilling) of common individual and household wastes.

One can contact the author, Susan Littlefield, Belgrade resident, with comments or suggestions at selittlefield13@gmail.com.