This post was originally published on Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ GoRecycle website.
Author, Emily Tipaldo
You probably know that there are certain types of plastic that many municipalities do not accept in curbside recycling bins. A lot of these plastics are plastic films, like grocery bags. But just because they can’t go to the curb doesn’t mean you have to chuck them in the trash where they’re bound for a landfill.
Why can’t plastic films go in curbside bins?
Different types of plastic require different treatment and processing to be recycled into new material. Putting the wrong kind of plastic in your recycling bins isn’t just an inconvenience; it can be dangerous, and even lead to more waste.
Loose film materials can clog up sorting machines, forcing whole plants to stop their work to unstick improper materials. And putting commonly accepted recyclables in plastic bags isn’t any better. Most municipal recycling programs need items to be loose in order to process them. This means recycling plant workers will often throw bagged recyclables into the trash, meaning that none of those materials get recycled.
So how should they be disposed of?
These plastics can still be recycled, they just need to be taken to a film specific recovery facility, or dropped in designated bins (there are often bins for old bags outside of grocery stores). Plastic film materials can be reused in a number of valuable ways.
They’re an important component in composite lumber, like the kind used for outdoor decks and playground equipment. They can also be broken down into smaller pellets, which can be turned into new bags, casing or pipes.
So which items can be taken to plastic film drop-off sites?
Nearly every type of plastic bag can be recycled, even though they should generally stay out of your curbside bin. This goes for grocery bags, food storage bags and even dry-cleaning bags. Just make sure that the plastic is clean and dry before you drop it off.
With so many consumers buying things online, there’s been an increase in the use of protective plastic packaging film. The inflated air shipping pillows and bubble wrap that come with your delivery can be recycled, along with plastic envelopes or packaging. Just be sure to remove any paper-based labels, since those can’t be recycled.
Wraps and casing
By now, you’re probably recycling your plastic drink bottles. But you can take it a step further and recycle the casing they come in as well. In fact, most plastic outer-wraps can be recycled. There are a few similar types of packaging, like six-pack rings, that may not be recyclable, so make sure to check with your municipality.
Certain foams can be recycled too!
Polystyrene foam #6 is a recyclable material. But what is it? This is the foam most commonly seen in the form of food and drink containers but it’s also used in packaging, specifically for fragile materials. This can be recycled into anything from a picture frame to new foam packaging material. Even though Washington D.C. has banned the use of foam like this, it’s still possible that you may end up with it if it’s used in packaging. Most communities do not accept foam in curbside recycling programs. For information on how you can recycle polystyrene foam visit www.homeforfoam.com.
You can help reduce waste by keeping plastic film and solid recyclables separate. Check out plasticfilmrecycling.org for the full list of plastic film that can be recycled.