How does the plastic recycling process work?
In these modern times, it seems that plastic products are found almost everywhere. Plastic is such a versatile material that it is incorporated into the production and packaging of almost everything we buy. However, discarded plastics are also disfiguring our public areas, littering our waterways and killing marine life. In 2006, U.S. consumers threw away nearly 60 billion pounds of plastic waste, but only 7 percent of that plastic waste was recycled. Compare that to metal recycling, which has been a common practice in both household and industrial settings for decades.
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Recycling efforts throughout the country, especially in the western states and in New York, have helped to increase public awareness of the plastic recycling process. It is becoming increasingly common for businesses to offer options for recycling plastic bottles, but there is still much room for improvement. In order to increase plastic recycling from the dismal 7 percent level, consumers need to learn more about the specific types of plastics and how to recycle them.
Plastic Recycling Symbols
In 1988 the Society of the Plastics Industry developed a numeric code to provide a uniform convention for different types of plastic containers. These numbers can be found on the underside of containers. While recyclers around the country vary as to which number plastic containers they will accept, the numbers and their general recycling acceptability follow:
- PET; PETE (polyethylene terephthalate). Picked up through almost all curbside recycling programs. Most plastic water and soda bottles fall into this category.
- HDPE (high density polyethylene). Picked up through almost all curbside recycling programs; a few programs only allow containers in this category with necks.
- V (Vinyl) or PVC. Very rarely accepted. A few manufacturers of plastic lumber will take this plastic.
- LDPE (low density polyethylene). Not often accepted by curbside programs. Some communities have alternative drop-off sites for this plastic.
- PP (polypropylene). Accepted by some but not all curbside programs, and slowly becoming more frequently accepted.
- PS (polystyrene). Accepted by a few curbside programs, and gradually becoming more accepted.
- Miscellaneous. Traditionally not recycled, but in recent years a few curbside programs are beginning to accept these plastics.
Recycling Plastic Bags
Recycled plastic bags can be reprocessed into many items, including plastic lumber, paneling, trash cans and floor tiles. Many curbside recycling programs do not accept plastic bags, but chances are good that a nearby neighborhood grocery store has a designated plastic bag recycling bin. Make sure that plastic bags are empty, clean and dry before you drop them off for recycling. Using cloth bags in the place of plastic bags also helps to reduce the number of plastic bags in the waste stream.
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