Monday, April 6, 2009

Recycling plastics: How to read and understand recycling symbols

So, I’m pretty sure most of you already recycle plastic on a daily basis. If you don’t, here are a few facts on plastic waste in the United States that I got off a blog I found called Say No to Plastic:

  • A plastic milk jug takes 1 million years to decompose.
  • A plastic cup can take 50 - 80 years to decompose.
  • Americans use 2.5 million plastic bottles every HOUR.
  • Plastic bags and other plastic garbage thrown into the ocean kill as many as 1 million sea creatures every year.
  • Today, Americans generate 10.5 million tons of plastic waste a year but recycle only 1 or 2% of it.
  • An estimated 14 billion pounds of trash, much of it plastic, is dumped in the world’s oceans every year.
  • The worldwide fishing industry dumps an estimated 150,000 tons of plastic into the ocean each year, including packaging, plastic nets, lines, and buoys.
  • Each of us creates 1,500 lbs of trash every year that has to be disposed of much of it could be recycled.
  • Every year we make enough plastic film to shrink-wrap the state of Texas.

In Canada alone, according to the Waste Reduction Week website, we as a population take home over 55 million plastic shopping bags every WEEK.

Recycling is available almost everywhere now. But all plastics are different and not always as readily recyclable in certain areas. We’ve all noticed the little triangle with a number in the middle and letters underneath. But many of us think “recycling symbol means recycling bin”… It is not always so.

Here is a breakdown of recycling symbols to help you buy products sold in containers that you will be able to recycle and that won’t be harmful to your health:

• 1 : polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE)
• 2 : high density polyethylene (HDPE)
• 3 : polyvinyl chloride (V or PVC)
• 4 : low density polyethylene (LDPE)
• 5 : polypropylene (PP)
• 6 : polystyrene (PS)
• 7 : other (various polycarbonate)

Now, the safest plastics, and the ones you’ll eventually want to reuse, are labeled 2(HDPE), 4(LDPE) and 5(PP). Extensive research has shown no leaching of chemicals. This is why most containers (condiments, squeezable bottles, etc.) are made from them. Keep in mind that number 5 plastics, although not so harmful once produced, they are very harmful during productions and are not always readily recyclable.

Now, 1(PETE) is one of the most widely used and recyclable plastic (water bottles and soft drink bottles are made of it) and are safe for users, they are not designed to be reused. After a certain time, the chemicals in the plastic will start breaking down and that’s when they start becoming harmful. They are also known for harboring bacterial growth, so if you must buy water bottles, do not reuse them over and over again. Just throw them in the bin.

Now the ones you REALLY don’t want are 3(PVC), 6(PS) and 7(OTHER). These are the ones that have very dangerous toxins and are very rarely accepted in recycling programs. If you guys have read my shower curtain post I don’t need to tell you how bad these are for you.

So next time you are at the grocery store and you are buying your plastic packaged goods, flip the jars and bottles over. You will help the environment by choosing plastics that are easily recyclable and will in the process take batter care of your health.

Hope this was interesting for you guys: Be safe and green!


Anonymous said...

What a great guide! Thanks a lot Yanic. It's not always easy to know what's better as far as plastics go.

Five Towns Air Conditioning & Vent Cleaning said...

This symbol is very familiar and is a need of the day.Plastics should be said no to and reused as much as can be.It is bad for the earth to get clogged by the use of plastics.