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What We Talk About When We Talk About Plastic Recycling

Try to imagine a day where you go without using plastic—it’s impossible. From yogurt containers to shampoo bottles to takeout containers, plastic is a part of our daily lives. Just a few years ago, this didn’t bother many people because recycling plastic was easier and more commonplace.


We used to recycle all plastics #1 through #7 in my township but due to a decreased demand for these items overseas, the historically low cost of oil that makes it cheaper to produce virgin plastic instead of using recycled plastic, and other changing economic conditions, very few plastic items are easily recyclable. Most people are left to only being able to recycle at the curb plastics labeled #1 or #2, and even those numbers are restricted to rigid plastics such as orange juice containers, milk jugs, salad dressings, ketchup bottles, and other like items.


The ubiquitous #1 plastics that accompany our strawberries, blueberries, pre-washed lettuce and spinach (i.e., clamshell containers), are no longer recyclable in most municipal programs. So, what are we to do? There certainly are purchasing changes one can make. For example, we can buy spinach that is not pre-packaged in plastic, instead using our own bags and buying loose bunches. However, there are not realistic or easy options when it comes to buying most small fruits.


There are some options to recycle all of this plastic, but it is not as convenient as it used to be. However, I have found a variety of places that will take these harder-to-recycle plastics. Here are some examples:

  • #5 plastics – send in a box to Preserve;

- Examples of acceptable #5 items: yogurt cups/lids, prescription bottles, take-out

containers (even the black ones from restaurants that are very hard to recycle),

plastic caps/base/pull tabs from paper milk/juice cartons, flowerpots, etc. For other

items and more information about the program, check out this link.

  • Whole Foods – plastic utensils (that it sends to Preserve);

  • TerraCycle – will take all plastics, but you must pay for a box to send it to them;

  • There are towns/counties that have separate locations where residents can drop off miscellaneous plastics. As an example, Centre County in Pennsylvania accepts a wide variety of plastics at numerous locations, in case you live in that area or ever find yourself traveling to Penn State for some Creamery ice cream!

  • A reader recently told me about a drop-off location in Pittsburgh, PA that will take #2 and #5 rigid plastics; and

  • I even recently came across a cool idea where someone collects plastic bread tags and turns them into wheelchairs.


In summary, it can be hard to avoid buying many items packaged in plastic, but if you really want to reduce your plastic contribution to landfills, there are options to recycle just about all of it. I encourage you to see what is available in your town or to try an option like Preserve, a company that recently scored in the top 10% of all 1,200+ B Corporations “for creating the most positive overall environmental impact.”


And if you are really interested in learning more about plastic consumption and creating change, please check out this blog from Penn Future and this proposed legislation to reduce plastic use/waste, which you can support by telling your legislators you want their support.



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