Earlier in the week, we talked about the recycling crisis and a couple of quick tips on how we can combat that. For this blog post, I wanted to talk about sorting our trash and recyclables correctly.
When I first discovered Lauren Signer from Trash is for Tossers and the modern mama of the zero waste movement, Bea Johnson, they both mentioned going through your trash and analyzing where your waste is coming from. No, we’re not going to #KonMarie our trash, but it’s good to be aware of what you are consuming when you’re disposing of it.
The average person produces 4.38 pounds of trash A DAY. When you see it in the form of a dumbbell, it doesn’t seem like much, but creating 4.38 pounds with things that don’t weight much like plastic, it’s A LOT.
Garbage is what goes to the landfill. It’s the “bad trash” that can’t decompose or be recycled. Some examples of this include small plastic items such as straws and utensils, multi-layered items such as juice pouches, lids and caps, diapers, paper towels with cleaning solutions, string lights, pet waste, aerosols, and some plastics (more on that later).
Organics are anything that derived from a living thing. These are things that you can compost such as food scraps, yard waste, coffee filters, or paper products. Simple right?!
Lastly, you have your recyclables such as plastics, aluminum, and tin cans, metal, cardboard, paper and newspaper, and glass jars and bottles.
Knowing your plastics
I believe that not all plastic is evil. Without plastic our medical services wouldn’t be as safe or as efficient, we wouldn’t be able to research new scientific discoveries, and there’s even plastic in the ISS making it feasible for astronauts to consume water and other things. BUT if you have the means to avoid it, why not consume less?
Before you do that though, I want you to know the different types of plastics out there. Under every plastic item that you can buy, there should be a number inside of a triangle. Like this:
Every number stands for a different type of plastic or “polymer.” The plastics are named after their scientific chemical name and there are seven types of plastics.
#1—PET/PETE or polyethylene terephthalate
The majority of single-use plastic is made of PET. The reason why it can’t be used more than once is that you are at a higher risk to chemical leaching and bacterial growth with this fella.
On the upside, PET is highly recyclable yet only a quarter of it gets recycled in the US. You can see its recycled counterpart in Everlane’s ReNew line, Patagonia’s recycled polyester and many accessory brands making bags and shoes from recycled water bottles.
#2—HDPE or high-density polyethylene
HDPE is much sturdier than PET and the most recycled in the US. It’s used for heavier items such as jugs, city trash bins, reusable water bottles, toys, and plastic bags. HDPE is the safest of all the plastics allowing you to reuse it and recycle it.
#3—V/PVC or polyvinyl chloride
PVC is commonly used in plastic wrapping for food storage but also piping, I’m sure you’ve heard of PVC pipes right? Same material! Although, this plastic is the least safe as it’s known to release phthalates and chlorine. Because of this PVC is not recyclable.
#4—LDPE low-density polyethylene
LDPE makes all super soft, malleable plastics such as dry cleaner bags, bread bags, shopping bags, basically thin plastics. LDPE is tricky because it can be highly reusable but not highly recyclable. I recommend checking with your county if you can recycle it but I have seen plenty of grocery stores designate #4 plastic recycling bins in their stores. It’s hard for LDPE to be accepted as a recyclable plastic, but if extra effort, it can be done.
#5—PP or polypropylene
Polypropylene is an interesting plastic because it can be used for many different things from straws to buckets to diapers. It’s dense yet lightweight without compromising its tough durability and heat-resistant qualities.
5 recyclables are often accepted by local recycling programs more today than before. As always, check with your city is it is accepted in your curbside pickup.
#6—PS or polystyrene
Polystyrene, my nemesis. Nerd note: the chemical structure of this bad boy is intense y’all. flashbacks
This guy is super cheap to make therefore it’s highly used at cheap take-out places for to-go containers or for insulating cold or hot drinks (Looking at up delicious Chick-Fil-A sweet tea). Which ironically, PS is also used as lightweight insulation in homes yet it is very weak. I should note that polystyrene doesn’t just make styrofoam. There are some single-use plastics that look like PET or food wrap plastic that can be mistaken for LDPE but are actually polystyrene.
Like PVC, polystyrene is not very safe. It’s known to leach chemicals when headed and it’s a major carcinogen. Polystyrene can be recycled if you are lucky. Not many city recycling centers take it, making it the most abundant plastic in landfills.
If you know that your favorite restaurant uses styrofoam containers for your leftovers, I suggest taking your own containers.
#7—Other such as BPA, polycarbonare, nylon, etc
7 can be known as the “etc” category for plastics. Most of them that are categorized as a 7 are similar to PVC and PS in the way that they are prone to leaching unsafe chemicals.
If a number 7 plastic has “PLA” under it, it means it’s safe to recycle.
Quick Cheat Sheet:
|OK to recycle||Maybe yes||Can’t recycle|