Last post I said that I would offer some tried-and-true cleaning solutions, but alas, my fellow St. Joseph Workers and I have not had a chance to experiment…yet. (Expect pictures!)
Instead, this week I offer some thoughts on one of the banes of modern existence: plastic. It sits in our landfills, it clogs our water, it absolutely refuses to break down. And those little tiny numbers that are supposed to tell you if it’s recyclable or not—what do those even mean?
Fear not, servants of sustainability, for I have scoured the internet and bring to you both knowledge and power! First up:
Here are the seven standard classifications for plastics, and the recycling and reuse information for each type:
#1 – PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)
PET is one of the most commonly used plastics in consumer products, and is found in most water and pop bottles, and some packaging. It is intended for single use applications; repeated use increases the risk of leaching and bacterial growth. PET plastic is difficult to decontaminate, and proper cleaning requires harmful chemicals. Polyethylene terephthalates may leach carcinogens.
Products made of #1 (PET) plastic should be recycled but not reused.
#2 – HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene)
HDPE plastic is the stiff plastic used to make milk jugs, detergent and oil bottles, toys, and some plastic bags. HDPE is the most commonly recycled plastic and is considered one of the safest forms of plastic. It is a relatively simple and cost-effective process to recycle HDPE plastic for secondary use.
Products made of HDPE are reusable and recyclable.
#3 – PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)
PVC is a soft, flexible plastic used to make clear plastic food wrapping, cooking oil bottles, teething rings, children’s and pets’ toys, and blister packaging, the sheathing material for computer cables, to make plastic pipes, window frames, garden hoses, arbors, raised beds and trellises.
PVC is dubbed the “poison plastic” because it contains numerous toxins which it can leach throughout its entire life cycle. Almost all products using PVC require virgin material for their construction; less than 1% of PVC material is recycled.
Products made using PVC plastic are not recyclable. While some PCV products can be repurposed, PVC products should not be reused for applications with food or for children’s use.
#4 – LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene)
LDPE is often found in shrink wraps, dry cleaner garment bags, squeezable bottles, and the type of plastic bags used to package bread. The plastic grocery bags used in most stores today are made using LDPE plastic. Some clothing and furniture also uses this type of plastic.
Products made using LDPE plastic are reusable, but not always recyclable. You need to check with your local collection service to see if they are accepting LDPE plastic items for recycling.
#5 – PP (Polypropylene)
Polypropylene plastic is tough and lightweight, and has excellent heat-resistance qualities. It serves as a barrier against moisture, grease and chemicals. When you try to open the thin plastic liner in a cereal box, it is polypropylene. PP is also commonly used for disposable diapers, pails, plastic bottle tops, margarine and yogurt containers, potato chip bags, straws, packing tape and rope.
PP is considered safe for reuse. To recycle products made from PP, check with your local curbside program to see if they are now accepting this material.
#6 – PS (Polystyrene)
Polystyrene is most often used to make disposable styrofoam, plastic picnic cutlery, foam packaging and “peanut” foam chips. Polystyrene is also widely used to make rigid foam insulation and underlay sheeting for laminate flooring used in home construction.
Because polystyrene is structurally weak and ultra-lightweight, it breaks up easily and is dispersed readily throughout the natural environment. Beaches all over the world have bits of polystyrene lapping at the shores, and an untold number of marine species have ingested this plastic with immeasurable consequences to their health. Polystyrene may leach styrene, a possible human carcinogen, into food products (especially when heated in a microwave). Chemicals present in polystyrene have been linked with human health and reproductive system dysfunction.
Recycling is not widely available for polystyrene products. Most curbside collection services will not accept polystyrene, which is why this material accounts for about 35% of US landfill material. While it is difficult to find a recycler for PS, some businesses like Mailboxes Etc. which provide shipping services are happy to receive foam packing chips for reuse. Polystyrene should be avoided where possible.
#7 – Other (BPA, Polycarbonate and LEXAN)
The #7 category was designed as a catch-all for polycarbonate (PC) and “other” plastics, so reuse and recycling protocols are not standardized within this category.
Number 7 plastics are used to make baby bottles, sippy cups, water cooler bottles and car parts. BPA is found in polycarbonate plastic food containers often marked on the bottom with the letters “PC” by the recycling label #7.
A new generation of compostable plastics, made from bio-based polymers like corn starch, is being developed to replace polycarbonates. These are also included in category #7, which can be confusing to the consumer. These compostable plastics have the initials “PLA” on the bottom near the recycling symbol. Some may also say “Compostable.”
#7 plastics are not for reuse, unless they have the PLA compostable coding. When possible it is best to avoid #7 plastics, especially for children’s food. PLA coded plastics should be thrown in the compost and not the recycle bin since PLA compostable plastics are not recyclable.
Recyclebank is another “save the Earth, earn points, win things” websites, similar to the Joulebug app. Its focus is more on education, and you can earn points just by reading articles or watching informational videos on the site. There is a plethora of information, including a place to put in your zip code to find out what’s recyclable in your area and a question & answer area Recyclebank also has its own an online store, and you can use points to get discounts off of products or shipping.
Pros: By far, the most user-friendly and beautifully made website I’ve found so far. Unlike many of the other sustainable sites I’ve reviewed, this one is obviously made for a web browser, not an app. Plus, you can earn/win/buy rewards with your points, including things like magazine subscriptions or the chance to win an Amazon gift card, or you can even donate your points to one of Recyclebank’s listed charities.
Cons: Despite how beautiful the website is (or maybe because of it), Recyclebank feels a lot more serious, rather than fun. Like Eartheasy, there is simply a lot of information to take in, and it can feel overwhelming to know where to start.
If you’re looking for a way to reuse the plastic around your house and you’re not content with simply recycling, then take a look at
For all those DIYers out there, this is for you! Precious Plastic is a new venture that shares blueprints for personal plastic recycling centers! The website is fantastic, so I highly recommend checking it out (and sharing it with everyone you know). I, personally, am incredibly excited about the potential of Precious Plastic to help reduce the plastic waste already present in our communities while we work to reduce the amount of plastic we consume overall.
Precious Plastic has six initiatives. From their website:
1. Develop Machines
For the past two years we have been developing machines to recycle plastic waste, locally.
2. Share, for free
The machines are developed using basic tools and materials. We share all the blueprints open source online. This way people around the world can build them.
3. Spread the know-how
In order to build these machines people need to know that the blueprints are available. We need to spread the know-how to every corner of the world.
Once the machines are build people can start experimenting, creating and producing new products from their local plastic waste.
5. Clean up
The primary goal is to recycle as much plastic as we possibly can. This would clean up our shared environment, improve living conditions and possibly create financial value!
An important aspect of the project is to create a world wide community of like-minded plastic savers. People working for a cleaner future, sharing knowledge, helping each other, and collaborating.
What can you make?
You can make a number of different products with each machine. Lamps, jars, bowls, vases, baskets, and the list goes on. Your creativity is the limit!
You could create tools for you or your community. Making buckets, boxes, handlebars, thread, bricks, and much, much more!
The plastic could also be transformed into granulate or filament for 3d printing machines, closing the loop.
For more info, you can watch the video below, or visit preciousplastic.com
Thanks for your participation in the efforts to reduce the plastic clutter plaguing our Earth!
Written by Elea Ingman, SJW