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So, you think you have been recycling? Think again!


Last updated 11/4/2021 at 9:49am

November 15th is America Recycles Day; let’s do it properly, America! You think you recycle? Maybe not. Let’s look at a number one reason your recyclables aren’t being recycled. Contamination. Your recyclables must be rinsed out; can’t be dirty- no cigarette butts in your plastic bottles, don’t recycle your spit cans, no diapers and no pizza boxes please! Soiled recyclables are garbage! And…don’t mix your plastics 1 through 7 together unless your recycler has blanket collections.

Here’s why you generally don’t mix plastic: the plastic resins, numbered 1-7 on their bottoms, require separate processing to be reformulated and re-used as raw material as each type of resin melts at different temperatures. Factories that make new products out of recycled plastics are set up to take only specific resin types. The resins are: • #1 PET or PETE made from Polyethylene Terephthalate • #2 HDPE made from High Density Polyethylene • #3 PVC made from Polyvinyl Chloride • #4 LDPE made from Low Density Polyethylene • #5 PP made from Polypropylene • #6 PS made from Polystyrene • #7 OTHER is made from a different resin.

When you throw all your plastic together or it’s unclean, it’s considered contaminated. It’s baled by the collector and shipped to the broker and/or manufacturer who inspects it and rejects it because of contamination. Your recycled plastic goes, bale and all, to the landfill.

Even resins with the same number can’t always be recycled together. Number 1 tubs can’t be recycled with clear bottles; clam shells, bubble wrap, opaque containers and colored plastic are generally not accepted.

Lids on or lids off? Lids off. And unless your recycler says otherwise, throw them in the garbage. Yes, the garbage. Lids and caps are usually made of something other than the bottle and are another source of contamination. Leaving caps or lids on a bottle or jug seals air in makes baling difficult and dangerous. These sealed containers do not compact causing bales to frequently explode during baling or handling, endangering workers. Also, plastic caps and lids can jam processing equipment at recycling facilities.

Take your plastic bags to the bag recycling bin at your grocery store or better yet, use reusable bags to do your shopping. Plastic bags and other thin plastic films are another element of bale contamination and rejection. They make a heck of a mess entangled in recycling equipment and conveyer belts.

So, let’s be responsible recyclers and make sure we do our part to end contamination and ensure our recyclables are actually recycled and remanufactured. Clean and rinse, toss all permanently soiled recyclables, plastic lids go in the garbage, know what numbers of plastic are taken in your area, separate your numbers, and recycle your plastic grocery bags at the stores with bag recycle bins.


Candi Zion is executive director for Recycle Montana, a non-profit corporation which serves as a resource for local governments, businesses and individuals seeking education, technical expertise and networking opportunities to increase recycling in their communities. http://recyclemontana.org .


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