Plastics are everywhere. From shopping bags to computer parts to water bottles and sunglasses, plastics are a big part of our every day life. While they provide tremendous benefits, are inexpensive, lightweight and durable, plastics also cause some unfortunate impacts on the environment.

While there are countless products made of plastic, there are seven different of types of plastic recyclables. Here in Hudson County, only Recyclable Types 1 & 2 are to be recycled. How do you determine which is which? Look for the “Recycle Triangle” typically located on the bottom of plastic materials.

Plastics Explained
Type 1 Plastics are composed of polyester (PET) and are generally the most commonly used plastics in consumer products. Type 1s include such materials as water bottles, soda bottles, salad dressing bottles, and peanut butter containers. These materials are constructed for a single use and should be recycled after that single use. Repeated use of these products will increase the risk of bacterial growth as well as leaching (the disintegration of the plastic into a liquid form). Type 1s are crushed and shredded into small flakes. These flakes can be reprocessed to make new PET bottles or spun into fiber. These fibers are then used in the production of such textiles as carpets, life jackets, fleece garments and pillow stuffing.

Type 2 Plastics are Treated High Density Polyethylene (HDPE). These types of plastics are used to construct such products as milk and juice containers, laundry detergent, shampoo bottles and butter containers. HDPEs are considered the safest form of plastic as well as the most commonly recycled type of plastic. Due to the stiff plastic construction of this material, Type 2 recyclables are weather-resistant and durable which allows for the material’s use to develop such products as waste bins, picnic tables as well as plastic lumber.

What are all the rest? Check out the full chart of plastics below. Plastics 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 should be disposed of with your household garbage.

Plastics, Plastics Everywhere!
In 1960, plastics accounted for less than one percent of the waste stream in the United States. Today, plastics account for more than 12 percent of the municipal solid waste stream, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While these materials have grown in popularity, only around 8 percent of plastics are recycled. In fact, only a quarter of all Type 1 PET bottles end up being recycled in the United States.

While plastics play a valuable role in society including playing a major role in advancements in technology, medicine and transportation, they have created major problems for human health and the environment globally. Some of the problems, according to Waste 360 include:

o 90% of plastics are made from non-renewable fossil fuels;
o Projections show that plastics will outnumber fish in terms of weight in oceans by 2050- in fact, the equivalent of one garbage truck full of plastic is dumped into our oceans every minute, equaling more than 8 million tons per year;
o Nearly 1/3 of all plastics produced end up as litter, in the soil or in oceans;
o Only about 50% of all plastics could be recovered using recycling systems currently available.

It is projected that the problem will get worse globally. Production of plastics is expected to double in the next 20 years and nearly quadruple by 2050. What can we do to fix it? We are glad that you asked!

Doing Your Part
We only have one planet and it is our duty to take care of it. The first way to help is to properly recycle Type 1 & Type 2 plastics as part of your household recycling. Before placing plastics (or any recyclables) in the recycling bin, please rinse them to remove any food particles. Also, any caps or lids should be removed. Because the caps & lids are not Type 1 or Type 2 plastics, they should be disposed of in the trash.

The Plastic Bag Dilemma
Plastic bags are great, right? They are lightweight, durable and come in handy when bringing your groceries home on a rainy day. The problem is that nearly in the United States, 100 billion single-use plastic bags are used annually with an average family accumulating 15 bags per visit to the grocery store. When disposed of, a single-use plastic bag can take anywhere between 20 and 1,000 years to degrade and the materials remain toxic even after they break down. Further, 10% of all plastic bags produced worldwide every year winds up in the ocean.

For some people, they believe that a proper recycling method for plastic bags is to place their recyclables in a plastic bag and then into their recycling bin or place their empty bags in the recycling bin. Both are incorrect. Plastic bags should never be included with commingled recycling.

When commingled recyclables arrive at the recycling center, the materials go through both manual and technological sorting. If plastic bags or plastic film go through the technological sorting process, they wrap around the mechanicals. This requires both extra sorting to be done by hand which increases recycling cost and the recycling system must be shut down completely every 2 to 3 hours for employees to manually remove plastic bags from the shafts.

What can you do? Switch to paper bag or use re-usable shopping bags. Plastic shopping bags can be returned to your local supermarket which keeps them out of the waste stream and allows them to be properly recycled.

The Last Straw
While we are talking about plastics, we would like to share a word about straws. Sure, they are fun and convenient and people just love them. In fact, 500 million drinking straws are used annually in the United States. Straws are most commonly made from Type 5 plastics which are not accepted by most curbside recycling programs. If a plastic straw enters the recycling sorter, their light weight does not allow them to go through the machine but rather they drop through sorting screens and end up with other materials to be disposed as garbage. If thrown in the garbage, plastic straws take up to 200 years to degrade, releasing toxic chemicals the entire time.

Sustainable alternatives include using bamboo straws, hay straws, paper straws, steel straws, a reusable water bottle with a straw, and of course, no straw. The choice is yours!

Plastics have caused a big problem for our planet. But working together and keeping the Earth in mind, we can make a big difference!

   

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