Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday's 3 Rs -- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Welcome to the first in a series of Fridays focused on the 3 R's! I'm hoping to answer your recycling questions, as well as my own, as we venture down this road together. I'm especially excited to be introducing this series the day before our local Recycle Rama.

First of all, any time you have a question on where to recycle something, go to this link and type in your zip code. That's the first piece of advice I have for you.

Secondly, if you're not recycling ... well, I don't even know what to say to you. Seriously. But it's never too late to start. Let's start with the simplest of all: Plastic. There is NO reason to toss most plastics in the trash. Even when you are out and about and grab a bottle of water at the mall or the zoo or wherever and you discover there isn't a recycling bin at the location. Pop the bottle into your purse, diaper bag, stroller, whatever, and take it home to recycle. Inconvenient? Perhaps. But responsible.

Can all plastic be recycled? No, so it is a good idea to check with your local curbside recycling program to find out what they will and will not take. You're probably familiar with the little recycling triangle embossed on the bottom of plastic containers. The number inside (between 1 - 7) is the key.

#1. Polyethylene Terephtalate (PETE or PET) -- This is the number you'll find on clear disposable water and soda bottles (most of the time), as well as peanut butter jars and similar containers.

#2. High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) -- Opaque plastic that is actually one of the safer plastics as far as leaching goes. Margarine tubs, milk bottles, laundry detergent, shampoo bottles, etc.

#3. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) -- This is a familiar term because plumbing pipes are made from PVC. But did you know food wrap and cooking oil bottles are made from it as well? The problem with PVC is that it contains phthalates, which have been known to be hormone disrupters. So, skip using plastic wrap with you food and do not microwave with it!! Ever. Sorry, that was just a side note. Back to recycling. PVC generally is not accepted by your curbside recyclers. That doesn't mean, however, that it is not recyclable. You just have to find a place that will take it.

#4. Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) -- Plastic bags. Endless amounts of plastic bags (use your reusable bags, folks!!). These are generally not picked up either. But many retailers collect clean plastic bags for recycling. Bread bags, squeezable bottles and an occasional food wrap is made with #4 Plastic.

#5. Polypropylene -- Beverage bottles that are not clear, but have a cloudy appearance, fit this category, as do yogurt containers, straws, and bottles for ketchup, mustard, syrup, etc. Most recycling programs accept #5 Plastic, so if your kids use straws, teach them to toss them in the recycling can, not in the trash!

#6. Polystyrene (Styrofoam) -- This plastic should be avoided as much as possible because it is tough to recycle and research is pretty clear that it leaches toxic chemicals into the environment. Plus, if it is heated, it's even worse. My advice for those of you who like to eat out and take "doggy bags" home, try to avoid the styrofoam containers!! Get in the habit of taking your own containers to the restaurant. Not only is this an eco-friendly thing to do, it's a better-for-your-health thing to do. Styrofoam is a nasty, nasty plastic. Avoid it whenever possible.

#7. Hodge-podge -- What?? Well, if your plastic is marked with a 7, it means it doesn't fit in any of the other 6 categories. Like? Well, how's this for a hodge-podge:
  • computer cases
  • toothbrushes
  • baby bottles
  • miscellaneous food containers
  • Legos and many other plastic toys
  • protective head gear
  • automotive parts like tail lights
There are a couple of problems here. One is that most recycling programs do not accept plastic that falls into this category. The second is that polycarbonate is included under the mysterious #7 labeling. Polycarbonate = BPA and we all know we have to avoid that!

So, that's my overview of plastics. When possible, avoid #3, #6 and #7, not just because of the recycling difficulties, but for health and environmental reasons as well.

This is our home. Treat it responsibly. Start by filling up those recycling containers!

Focusing on the 3 Rs,



  1. If a container has no number, then it is not recyclable? I am specifically asking in regards to pudding cups (please don't judge me; I hardly ever buy them for the kids!). In the past I have thrown them away (I know, I know... your recent post had me feeling guilty about this). So, can I put them in with the mixed plastics? (Our center takes #1-#7 all together.)

  2. Hi Meg,

    Thanks for asking about this, and please don't feel guilty!! Yes, pudding cups are recyclable -- just toss them in your bin. I'm not sure what number they are (probably #5), but they are definitely recyclable.

  3. Great! Thank you. That clears that up. :)


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