The wherever-you-are guide to plastic recycling
Maximize your plastic recycling, starting now.
Most of us live in places where recycling part of our everyday waste is now part of every life. We wash, clean and separate certain items and dispose of them in a way designed to send them for recycling and reusing. This, in turn, generates jobs, saves natural resources, lowers everyone’s carbon footprint and helps lower pollution. Everyone wins.
When it comes to plastics, what you can recycle isn’t always clear. Or is it?
There are so many, and so different, and each region or even recycling plant may recycle them differently… Here’s your guide to understand what you can recycle no matter where you are.
Now that you’ve examined your plastic consumption and have decided to make a concerted effort to lower it and recycle what you do use, here’s how to tell what you can and cannot recycle.
Sorting your plastic waste
Your housing community or building has recycling bins to sort your waste. Next time you take out the garbage, check the plastic recycling bin and look for the following:
- A list of items that are OK and not OK to recycle in your plastics bin; or
- A list of recycling codes printed on the plastic recycling bin.
You see, every piece of plastic that we use has a standardized global code printed on it. You can identify it because it will be a recycling symbol (a triangle made of arrows) with a number and/or acronym alongside or inside it. In many countries, and even within countries, different recycling companies use those codes or a printed list to help consumers know what we can and cannot recycle.
Knowing what you can throw in there is the first step in separating recyclable plastics as you use them. The only thing to remember is that you also help by rinsing these items of any organic waste before putting them to recycle (you will also save yourself a pest problem).
Rules for recycling plastics properly
- Plastic bags are not recyclable and should never go in the plastic recycling bin. Plastic bags break down in the recycling process and often clog the sorting machines. To fix that, just carry your plastics to the container in a bag, and empty the bag. Then you can reuse it.
- If you have an excess of bags, most supermarkets have a bag recycling basket/bin so you can take them.
- Alternatively, you can use a recyclable plastic bottle to stash all your plastic bags, and recycle them safely that way.
- If you have a large number of plastic bottles or containers that take space, consider crushing them. It saves you -and the recycling trucks- space to take more.
- A lot of the plastic sorting in recycling plants is a manual process. To help workers, it’s good to avoid storing smaller plastic bits (like caps, straws, etc.) inside of larger plastic containers unless your area recommends this. The easier we make their jobs, the more the world recycles.
- If you separate bottles from their plastic caps, you will also be saving time and possible contamination in the recycling process.
Know if your area offers cash back for containers (CRV)
In the US and other countries ( we can confirm that they do this in Australia, Canada, Fiji, Uruguay, Peru, Japan and most of the European Union; check online for other countries), returning plastic, cans, and glass containers to the store often provides a refund of part of the value paid. Find out if your region or countries does, and inform yourself when travelling abroad. Every effort helps, and this one gets you money back.
In the United States, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, New York, Oregon and Vermont offer refunds.
When your plastics cannot be recycled
There will always be something you just can’t seem to recycle, plastics that the local recycling center doesn’t take. Sadly, it’s those plastics –packaging materials, Styrofoam and PVC- that are the most visible types of plastic pollution.
To dispose of them in an earth-friendly way, Google is a good starting point. Check “plastic recycling community centers in my area”. You will find larger centers that accept other, difficult-to-process plastics –including Styrofoam and (yes!) plastic bags near you. Making it a point to visit one once a month is a great way to help the planet and keep your home free of large clutter.
Additionally, do you have one type of plastic item that you use and recycle regularly? Food containers, mesh bags, pet food containers-? It’s always fun to google repurposing ideas for them, and for that internet is king!