Navigating Plastic Recycling: What You Need to Know

Navigating Plastic Recycling: What You Need to Know

, by Planet Green, 5 min reading time

Recycling plastics can be a tricky task. With so many types of plastics and different rules for recycling centers, it's easy to get confused. However, understanding which plastics are recyclable and how to prepare them properly can make a significant difference in our efforts to help the planet. A simple understanding of what can and can’t be recycled can help you make better decisions on what you should and shouldn’t opt for in the first place when it comes to choosing packaged items for daily use.

The Impact of Improper Plastic Disposal

Improper disposal of plastics has severe environmental consequences. When plastics aren't recycled, they often end up in landfills or are incinerated, releasing harmful carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. According to NOAA, this contributes to the Earth's rising temperatures. In landfills, plastics can take anywhere from five to 600 years to break down, with plastic bottles taking an average of 450 years and ink cartridges up to 1000 years. It’s astounding how something so small can make such a big impact, and with a million ink cartridges entering landfills every day in the United States alone, you can see how proper disposal and recycling makes a big difference.

Steps to Effective Plastic Recycling

  1. Clean Your Plastics: Before tossing plastics into the recycling bin, rinse out any food or liquids. Contaminated plastics can ruin entire batches of recyclables, leading them to be discarded instead of recycled. What’s more, items like ink cartridges, which you can’t clean out, further contaminate the items in the recycle bin and when they get to the recycling machinery, ever item in that bin gets rejected and goes into a landfill. That means it’s not just the ink cartridge, it’s the soda cans, the water bottles and the cardboard boxes that would otherwise have been recycled - it all goes into the landfill. Clean what can be recycled before putting it in the bin and know what has to be recycled separately.
  2. Check for Recycling Symbols: Look for numbers on the bottom of plastic containers. These numbers indicate the type of plastic. Plastics labeled #1 and #2 are commonly recyclable, while #6 plastics are often not accepted. Compostable plastics should be composted, not recycled. While this is often hard to understand and guidelines are hard to follow, it’s likely a striped down understanding of the process is available on the website of your local town charter or recycling center. Do a quick Internet search and be in the know.
  3. Crush to Conserve: If a plastic bottle label advises, "crush to conserve," remove the lid, crush the bottle by twisting and pressing it down, then replace the lid before recycling. While it may not make a difference to your local recycling plant, it may, and it might save you some space. Check out this alternative and start crushing.

Understanding Recyclable Plastics

Not all plastics are created equal. Many people mistakenly believe all plastics can be recycled, but this isn't the case. The acceptance of different plastics varies by recycling center. To find out which plastics are accepted, contact your local recycling company or check their website. Some bins provided by disposal companies also list acceptable items on the outside.

This is true with ink cartridges more than most anything. You can not dispose of ink cartridges by putting them in the recycling bin. Visit to get a free shipping label to send your empty and unwanted ink cartridges in to them for proper recycling, every time!

The Reality of Plastic Recycling

Despite our best efforts, less than 10% of plastic is actually recycled, according to rePurpose Global. About 12% is incinerated, and the remaining plastic ends up in landfills or the ocean. This low recycling rate is partly due to contamination from food residue and other materials, which renders recyclable plastics useless. We don’t often consider it, but dirty plastics go into landfills, it’s just the way it is.

Recycling facilities face numerous challenges, such as inadequate machinery to handle the workload. Therefore, ensuring that recyclable plastics are clean and sorted correctly is crucial for improving recycling rates.

Tips for Reducing Plastic Waste

Reducing plastic waste starts with making smarter choices. Here are some actionable steps you can take:

  • Use Reusable Items: Opt for glass or hard plastic bottles that can be refilled and reused. Use reusable straws, cloth shopping bags, and glass or durable plastic cups instead of disposable ones. Simple choices make a big difference to the environment.
  • Recycle Plastic Bags: Check if your local grocery store or recycling center accepts plastic bags for recycling. Do what you can to avoid using them altogether, but if you’ve got them, find a way to recycle them properly so they don’t litter the landscape.
  • Reuse Plastic Items: Reuse plastic products whenever possible. Tobias Haider from PlastX highlights that plastic would not be problematic if reused effectively. This means both reusing items you have, recycling times you don’t want or need and choosing remanufactured and recycled items when making purchases. It all reduces the amount of waste we put into the Earth.
  • Avoid Plastic Foam: Plastic foam, including egg cartons and packaging peanuts, is not recyclable. Schools and craft projects may be able to reuse these materials, but ultimately, it will all end up poisoning the environment. Avoid these items at all costs.

By following simple guidelines and being mindful of your plastic use, you can significantly reduce your environmental impact. Proper recycling, buying recycled and reducing plastic waste are all essential steps toward a more sustainable future we should all be aware of and taking every day.


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