How to Recycle Plastic

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The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has set a national goal to recycle 25 percent of our national waste. Some plastics can be recycled through curbside recycling, grocery store drop bins or drop-off centers. A raised number (1 through 7) in a triangle on the bottom of most plastic containers tells you what type of plastic it is and if it can be recycled.

Things You'll Need

  • Recycle Bins
  • Call your county's Department of Public Works or recycling center to determine what type of plastic to recycle and where to take it. Also call 1-800-CLEANUP for state recycling information.

  • Rinse and sort your plastic containers by number. Recyclable plastic often must be separated by number in order to avoid contamination as it begins the recycling process.

  • Recycle type 1 (PETE) and type 2 (HDPE) plastic containers at your curb, according to local instructions. Type 1 and 2 containers include some plastic bags, detergent containers, and milk, soft drink, juice, cooking oil and water bottles.

  • Drop off plastic grocery bags - usually type 4 (LDPE), sometimes type 2, though not always marked - at your grocery store to be recycled. Most large chain grocery stores will have bins located in the store. Types 2 and 4 can be mixed most of the time, but read the signs first to be sure. Clean out bags before recycling.

  • Call the Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers, (410) 451-8340, or visit their Web site to find a local recycling center in your area that will take foam packaging (type 6, Expanded Polystyrene or EPS). Other type 6 items such as plastic utensils will most likely need to be thrown out.

  • Throw out types 3 (plastic food wrap and vegetable oil bottles), 5 (yogurt containers, syrup bottles, diapers, some bags, most bottle tops and some food wrap) and 7 (layered or mixed plastic). While some of these are recyclable, the plastics industry is still in the early stages of recycling and does not recycle these in most cities unless it is through a test program.

  • Take caps and pump spray tops off of plastic containers unless they are marked with a number. They are often made from a type of plastic that is different from the main part of the container and generally are not recyclable.

  • Find out if your community requires you to remove labels from plastic containers before you recycle them.

  • Crush plastic containers to save space in your recycling bin.

Tips & Warnings

  • Call the American Plastics Council, 1-800-2-HELP-90, for more information about plastics.
  • Plastic type 1 (PETE) can be recycled into items like carpet, auto parts, paint brushes and industrial paints.
  • Plastic type 2 (HDPE) is recycled into products like detergent and engine oil bottles, trash cans and recycling bins.
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