How to Recycle Plastic Food Containers

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If you're awash in plastic, with plastic bags full of plastic containers, soda bottles and takeout boxes, stop and sort your cache out. While it can seem like everything's made of plastic, the good news is that most plastic can be recycled municipally and the rest can be reused. There's no hard-and-fast guideline for plastic recycling, so you'll need to take the lead and check on your town's policy: Arbitrarily recycling everything you have without sorting can clog recycling machinery and compromise the quality of the recycled products.

  • Call your town's Department of Public Works and ask what types of plastic can be recycled, and the proper way to prepare the containers for recycling. Jot down a list and stick it on your fridge so you know at a glance what you can and cannot recycle locally.

  • Turn over your plastic food container and locate the number on the bottom, which runs from 1 to 7. For example: Those clamshells holding your strawberries are number 3 plastic, while the container from your yogurt is a number 5. Styrofoam is number 6. Cross check it with your list to find out whether your community recycles that type of plastic.

  • Rinse the food container to remove all food particles. Food containers can attract insects and vermin to your recycling bin, so clean all containers thoroughly before you recycle.

  • Place the rinsed food container in your recycle bin. When it's time for curbside collection, take the bin to the curb. If you live in a community that makes you take recyclables to the recycling center, do so.

  • Check for nearby recycling centers that can accept other forms of plastic using Earth911's search. Type in your city and state in the location and the number in the "find" box. For example, type "#5 Plastic" to search for nearby options. Then bring your cleaned plastic to a recycling center near you.

  • Re-use containers around the house if you don't want to find a recycling center and transport them. Many plastic food containers make convenient food storage containers, and clamshell containers are ideal seed starters.

Tips & Warnings

  • Plastic bags can be recycled at most grocery stores and retail stores, or used as doggie poop bags or waste paper basket liners.
  • What can be recycled in your community likely changes, so check in each year to see whether more plastic items become recyclable.

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  • Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images
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