How Recycling Plastic Works and Why It’s More Complicated then You ThinkPeople have been recycling for years, yet many are unaware of the nuances involved in the task. Although recycling paper, glass and metal is relatively straightforward, plastic recycling can be a more complex process.
There are many kinds of plastic, and the rules governing this material vary across recycling companies and between states. In some cases, you may be required to segregate different plastics into different recycle containers, and certain items may not be recyclable at all. Because of the degree of variation, it’s important to be aware of these distinctions to ensure safe use and proper disposal to keep the environment protected.
Different Types of PlasticThe first step in successfully recycling plastic is to fully understand the different types of plastic available. Here are some of the most common forms:
1. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)Typically made into clear food and beverage bottles, this plastic is considered safe for people and the environment. However, its surface can cultivate bacteria and hold flavor, so it should not be repeatedly reused.
2. High-density polyethylene (HDPE)This plastic is usually opaque and is found in milk jugs and juice bottles. It has a low risk of leaching, making it ideal for recycling into items such as detergent bottles, picnic tables, etc.
3. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)This material can cause health problems if used improperly. Components of the plastic have been linked to miscarriages, developmental problems and cancer. It should never be microwaved and use with food should be minimal.
4. Low density polyethyleneFound in items such as squeezable bottles, shopping bags and frozen food trays, this form of plastic is considered safe for recycling and use.
5. PolypropyleneUsed in yogurt cups, syrup bottles and other wide necked bottles, this plastic is also considered safe for recycling and use.
6. PolystereneThis material is used in Styrofoam. Evidence suggests that it can leach toxic chemicals, especially when heated. It is also difficult to recycle and is considered bad for the environment. For this reason, many areas do not allow this material to be recycled.
7. Everything elseThis includes plastic mixtures and plant-based plastics, should be used with caution. Some of these include polycarbonate, which has been linked to health issues such as infertility, hyperactivity and reproductive problems.
Wrapping your head around the intricacies of plastic recycling can be a challenge, especially because recyclers can change their requirements over time. Check with your recycler to find out what they accept and how they might want it segregated. Although some forms of plastic are not recyclable, being informed on what can be recycled can help reduce plastic going into the environment and landfills. Stericycle is committed to delivering solutions that help reduce harmful waste from ending up in the environment.