Saturday, November 27, 2010

Recycling Plastic

What does a year or two of recyclable plastic from one family look like?

Four large bags and one small bag full of plastic containers
I've been saving all the plastic that comes through our house: takeout containers from the co-op, yogurt tubs, and other pods that enclose baked goods from grocery stores. It's been accumulating in the garage and the basement for quite a while, getting in the way, I have to admit. So I finally dealt with it.

The few plastic bottles we buy go out with the regular recycling, but this is the other plastic that shows up in our daily lives. I just sorted it by number and put all the identical pieces together, so they would nest tightly and take up less space. (Before I did that, it took up twice as much space as shown here.)

Here are some catches for those who want to recycle their plastic:

  • It has to be clean of food and grease.
  • Every separate piece needs to have a recycling symbol with a number, which means many container tops must be thrown away. I had to toss about a bag's worth of tops and other pieces that didn't have numbers. I did notice that the tops that did have numbers frequently didn't match the number of the container they came with, so there's a good reason for excluding numberless tops.
  • It's not picked up curbside in many/most places. In the Twin Cities, you can take it to Eastside Food Co-op in northeast Minneapolis. They accept plastic on Thursday from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m. and Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
We had two bags of PET number 1, polyethylene terephthalate, which is usually clear and slightly flexible. (This is what soda pop bottles are made of.) PET is turned into Polar fleece, tote bags, furniture, carpet, and paneling. Sometimes it's actually recycled into new containers. The containers from the co-op are made from recycled PET.

Our next most common type of plastic was number 6, polystyrene, with one full bag. It's usually clear, also, and is more brittle than PET, although it's used in similar types of containers. It gets reused as insulation, light switch plates, egg cartons, vents, rulers, foam packing. It's also sometimes recycled into more carry-out containers.

There was a mostly full bag of Number 5, polypropylene. Mostly yogurt tubs, but also cottage cheese and cream cheese.

We had only small amounts of numbers 2, 4 and 7. I guess number 2 is common in bottles such as milk, detergent and shampoo, but not so common for other types of containers.

Breakfast cereal bags and straws are each made of only one type of plastic, but they can't be recycled because they don't have numbers on them. I haven't used a straw in years.

Sorting and cleaning all this plastic made me think even more about how I can cut down on the amount of plastic I use. I've been reusing the big salad containers at the co-op, and I'm on the verge of making my own yogurt.

More on the various numbers can be found here.


Blissed-Out Grandma said...

Interesting. I haven't been paying that close attention, so I learned some things here.

Linda Myers said...

We have curb pickup for our recyclables. My husband Art makes sure everything gets out there. By the time we recycle plastic and paper, put food waste in the pig's dinner or in the compost bin, and put the carbs out for the crows, our actual trash is minimal.

Daughter Number Three said...

Linda, do they take plastics that aren't bottles? If so, do you have to separate them somehow?

Unemployed Dragon said...

once you make your own yogurt, you won't go back to the store bought stuff. So good and so simple to make.

Daughter Number Three said...

Daughter Number 3.1 just recently started eating yogurt every day, so there's finally a reason to make it. I'm looking forward to it.

Blythe Woolston said...

We use a recycling pick-up service. They don't take glass, since Billings is too far away from anywhere that recycling glass to make the shipping cost worth it. But they also "reject" occasional plastic pbjects on the basis--I guess-- of aesthetics. We had a weird clear plastic egg carton that they never would take even though it was the correct number. Maybe their point was that cardboard cartons make better sense.