The Trash Blog

Is Plastic Recyclable or Not?

Doing my research for a post on plastic, I found an article on Earth 911 that says “Most plastic jugs and bottles are 100% recyclable.” This sounded like a pretty bold statement to me.

I’ve heard that plastic is recyclable, but I’ve also heard that there are many kinds of plastic and not all of them are recyclable. So here’s a run down of what I’ve learned about plastic recycling.

Gucci has released a bag that it claims is 100% recyclable; "A bold new image of luxury that is sensitive to the environment." Image retrieved from: http://retaildesignblog.net/category/eco/page/5/

Gucci has released a bag that it claims is 100% recyclable; “A bold new image of luxury that is sensitive to the environment.” Image retrieved from: Retail Design Blog.

The EPA describes the process of recycling plastic this way: when you put an approved plastic in the recycling bin it is collected and taken to a materials recycling facility where the materials are sorted into broad categories. The plastics are separated by category and baled and sold to a reclamation facility. Here they are further sorted, with contaminants such as paper and dirt being filtered out. The flakes are then separated by density, melted and reformed into pellets. These pellets can then be used in the manufacture of new products.

Nestle UK and Ireland claims the packaging for its entire Easter Egg collection is 100% recyclable. Image source: http://www.letsrecycle.com/news/latest-news/packaging/nestle-makes-easter-egg-packaging-100-recyclable

Nestle UK and Ireland claims the packaging for its entire Easter Egg collection is 100% recyclable. Image source: Let’s Recycle.

In a 2012 article the Earth Institute at Columbia University said that Americans recycle only 6.5% of the 33.6 million tons of plastic discarded every year. They say that so little plastic is recycled because “there are various types of plastic with different chemical compositions, and recycled plastics can be contaminated by the mixing of types. Plastic waste is also contaminated by materials such as paper and ink.”

ThomasNet, a resource for plastic supplies, says “contamination can render a batch of material un-reusable,” they also have an interesting article on the various machines used in the plastic recycling process.

This WiseGeek entry says that plastic is usually downcycled, because “it cannot be used in the same way twice,” and that plastic is difficult to recycle because of contaminants such as biodegradable plastics and dyes.

This wine package, the Bota Box, claims to be 100% recyclable. Image source: http://www.greenerpackage.com/source_reduction/new_500-ml_wine_carton_aimed_active_modern_lifestyle

This wine package, the Bota Box, claims to be 100% recyclable. Image source: Greener Package.

A Minnesota non-profit called Eureka Recycling! says that “combining different types of plastic renders it useless for manufacturing,” and that “plastic resin has a limited value as a commodity because its quality degrades every time it is reheated,” and that “most plastic is only reprocessed once before it goes to a landfill.”

Most recyclers I’ve spoken with or read about say that PET (the type of plastic that most jugs and bottles are made of) loses at least 20% by weight when it is recycled back into flake or pellets.

Woofy dog shampoo claims to be "born from the playfulness of being and having a dog." They also claim their plastic packaging is 100% recyclable. Image source: http://www.packagingoftheworld.com/2013/05/woofy.html

Woofy dog shampoo claims to be “born from the playfulness of being and having a dog.” They also claim their plastic packaging is 100% recyclable. Image source: Packaging of the World.

What exactly does 100% recyclable mean? To me, 100% recyclable means all the material of the product you start with can be turned into another product without any loss. So what does Earth 911 (owned by Infinity Resources Holdings, and frequently featuring advertising from the American Chemistry Council) mean when they say that most plastic jugs and bottles are 100% recyclable? I sent them an email, but haven’t heard anything back yet.

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This entry was written by Philip and published on October 2, 2013 at 12:25 pm. It’s filed under Advertising, Packaging, Plastic, Recycling and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

3 thoughts on “Is Plastic Recyclable or Not?

  1. If you are correct and such a small percentage of plastics are recycled, it begs the question as to is the recycling effort, for plastics, worth it.

  2. Tammie on said:

    Hi trashbloggers,

    This blog has changed my ways of consumerism and recycling. I use to feel giddy putting out the recyclables every week, but now I am reducing my recycling by trying to not even have products to recycle. I now bring containers to the coop to buy bulk items. I am also speaking up to store managers (especially Costco) about their ‘over’ packaging. How about if everyone joins me and complains about packaging. Your stories reveal the need to change our ways at the root of the problem. In Washington state, most cities have eliminated the plastic bags. That’s great, but we’ve got a lot more to work on and everyone’s efforts count.

    Tammie
    ps. the garbage went out today, and I had to get my jolllies somewhere!

  3. Pingback: What You Should Know About UK Plastics Recycling | plastics and stuff

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