The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 20, 2009


Plastic recycling: decoding the codes

by Dan Scholten

The Carlisle Transfer Station accepts all [clean] plastics that have a triangular recycling symbol with the number 1-7 inside (except StyrofoamTM). Translucent (semi-clear) milk-type jugs with a code of 2 go into the “Clear Plastic Milk Jugs” bin [flattened to save space], while all other numbered plastic goes into the “Mixed Plastic” bin. The reason for this separation is that the Carlisle DPW makes $40 per ton for this “Clear Plastic,” while it breaks even on mixed plastic. Of course, plastic deposit bottles can be returned to collection machines at supermarkets such as Market Basket.

Here’s the scoop behind the plastic numbering codes:

Number 1 plastic (PETE – polyethylene terephthalate) is commonly used in bottles for water, soft drinks, mouthwash and vegetable oil, as well as peanut butter jars and food trays. It is recycled into fleece and other fibers, tote bags, furniture, carpet and paneling.

Number 2 plastic (HDPE – high density polyethylene) is found in bottles of milk, juice, bleach, detergent, motor oil, etc. HDPE can be either translucent or opaque. It is recycled into lumber, furniture, bottles, bins, tile, pipe, pens, etc.

Number 3 plastic (V – vinyl, or PVC – polyvinyl chloride) is found in bottles for window cleaner, detergent, cooking oil and shampoo, and in building materials such as siding and piping.

Number 4 plastic (LDPE – low density polyethylene) is in squeezable bottles, bread bags, shopping bags, clothing, furniture, and carpet. (Remember, only items with a number inside a triangular symbol are recyclable in Carlisle.) It is recycled into trash can liners and cans, envelopes, paneling, lumber and floor tile.

Number 5 plastic (PP – polypropylene) is found in some yogurt containers, syrup and ketchup bottles, caps, straws, and medicine bottles. It can be recycled into brooms, brushes, auto battery parts, landscape borders, bins, pallets and trays. To make sure all of your #5 plastics are remade into new products, take them to Whole Foods Market, which has a special recycling bin for them.

Number 6 plastic (PS – polystyrene) can be either rigid or foam (StyrofoamTM). It is found in carry-out containers, disposable plates and cups, meat trays, egg cartons and compact disc cases. Clean foam peanuts and packing blocks can be brought to the UPS Store for reuse.

Number 7 plastic (miscellaneous) is commonly found in large water containers, DVDs, signs, food containers, and nylon. Some #7 plastic is made from corn and is biodegradable – if it softens up in water, put it in your compost pile. Another example of #7 is polycarbonate, which is in Nalgene and some baby bottles.

Avoid using non-recyclable #3, 6 and 7

The Carlisle DPW takes all of its plastics to E.L. Harvey & Sons, Westborough Mass., for recycling. Plastics #1, 2, 4 and some #5’s are recycled into new products, while #3, 6, and 7 need to be incinerated at a waste-to-energy facility.

These last three plastics are also undesirable because they can leach toxins, so their use by consumers should be limited. For example, number 7 plastic water and baby bottles contain bisphenol A (BPA), which has mounting evidence against it as being potentially harmful to unborn or newborn children. Remember this rhyme: “1 and 2 are safe for you; 4 and 5, you’ll stay alive.”

While proper recycling is important, reduction in use is always preferable from an environmental viewpoint. A metal water bottle can be reused many times, whereas plastic bottles are usually discarded after one use. Each year more than ten billion plastic water bottles end up as garbage in U.S. landfills.

Reference: E / The Environmental Magazine,

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito