Friday, January 21, 2011

The Secret Code of Plastic Recycling

Did you ever notice that most plastic items are marked somewhere with the number 1-7 inside a recycling arrow symbol?

This mark is part of a system that identifies various types of plastics. It indicates how and where you can recycle different plastic items from your home and office. Unfortunately, the presence of one of these symbols doesn't mean that these materials may be recycled everywhere. You must check with your local municipal waste service. The first two types — PET and HDPE — are the most common forms of plastic, so they are the easiest to recycle. Others, like PVC, contain more nasty chemicals but should be recycled to keep toxins out of the environment.

Here’s a guide to the plastic recycling code, plus some common products you’ll find of each plastic type:

#1 PET (Polyethylene terephthalate): soda bottles, oven-ready meal trays and water bottles. PET plastic is the most common for single-use bottled beverages, because it is inexpensive, lightweight and easy to recycle. It poses low risk of leaching breakdown products. Recycling rates remain relatively low (around 20%), though the material is in high demand by remanufacturers.

#2 HDPE (High-density polyethylene): milk bottles, cereal box liners and grocery/trash/retail bags. HDPE is a versatile plastic with many uses, especially for packaging. It carries low risk of leaching and is readily recyclable into many goods.

#3 PVC (Polyvinyl chloride): plastic food wrap, loose-leaf binders and plastic pipes.PVC is tough and weathers well, so it is commonly used for piping, siding and similar applications. PVC contains chlorine, so its manufacture can release highly dangerous dioxins. If you must cook with PVC, don't let the plastic touch food. Also never burn PVC, because it releases toxins.

#4 LDPE (Low-density polyethylene): dry cleaning bags, produce bags and squeezable bottles. LDPE is a flexible plastic with many applications. Historically it has not been accepted through most American curbside recycling programs, but more and more communities are starting to accept it.

#5 PP (Polypropylene): medicine bottles, aerosol caps and drinking straws. Polypropylene has a high melting point, and so is often chosen for containers that must accept hot liquid. It is gradually becoming more accepted by recyclers.

#6 PS (Polystyrene): NASTY material used for compact disc jackets, plastic tableware, and worst of all... those horrible packaging styrofoam peanuts! Polystyrene can be made into rigid or foam products — in the latter case it is popularly known as the trademark Styrofoam. Evidence suggests polystyrene can leach potential toxins into foods. The material was long on environmentalists' hit lists for dispersing widely across the landscape, and for being notoriously difficult to recycle. Most places still don't accept it, though it is gradually gaining traction.

#7: A wide variety of plastic resins that don't fit into the previous categories are lumped into number 7. Other: three- and five-gallon reusable water bottles, certain kinds of food containers and Tupperware. A few are even made from plants (polyactide) and are compostable. Polycarbonate is number 7, and is the hard plastic that has parents worried these days, after studies have shown it can leach potential hormone disruptors.

If you must use plastic products for your marketing and promotional campaigns, please consider using the recycled and recyclable kind. From wearables, to journal covers, to pens and bags, there are many cool, practical promotional products made of recycled plastic. We can help you find them.