Recycling Plastics

Plastics Recycling Explained:

Plastics are the most misunderstood item when it comes to recycling. Some consumers see the familiar symbol with the chasing arrows and conclude that ALL containers are recyclable.  It depends on where the plastics end up to be processed.  For example, the 7 number codes found on the bottom of plastic containers simply identify the type of plastic resin from which the item is made.

Because different types of plastic resins have different properties and cannot all be processed the same, the rules for recycling plastics are determined by the local recycling facility, which, in turn are dictated by technology, processing equipment, and supply and demand economics.

Elon's plastics are recycled at ReCommunity, a facility in Greensboro.  They accept plastics #1-#7, and therefore so does Elon.

PET #1 or HDPE #2 plastic containers, like water bottles, milk and detergent jugs, are "blow molded."  This means the shape is made by blowing air into a mold, similar to blowing air into a balloon.

The PP #5 tub- or cup-shaped plastics are "injection molded," whereby the plastic is "stamped" into its shape.  These plastics cool and melt at different temperatures, and therefore are not compatible with "blow molded" plastics in the reprocessing stage.  In other words, if the plastics are mixed, it would be like trying to blow bubbles with regular chewing gum, so they are not always accepted for recycling.
The identification system that categorizes hundreds of resins into 7 categories was developed by the Society for Plastics Industry (SPI) in 1988.  SPI, in conjunction with the National Recycling Coalition (NRC), attempted to overhaul the coding system in 1994, without success.  In case you are wondering, each code represents the following:

# 1 PET - Polyethylene Terephthalate. Accounts for 20-30% of all plastic bottles manufactured. Most commonly found in 2-liter soda bottles, and water bottles.
# 2 HDPE - High Density Polyethylene. The most common plastic used in plastic bottle manufacture, about 50-60%. Usually found in milk and detergent jugs, shampoo and lotion bottles.
# 3 V - Vinyl/Polyvinyl Chloride.
# 4 LDPE - Low Density Polyethylene.
# 5 PP - Polypropylene.
# 6 PS - Polystyrene. Used in disposable food service tableware, plates and cups. The "foam polystyrene" variety is often mistakenly called "Styrofoam" and is used for rigid packing material and peanuts.
# 7 Other All other plastic resins and multi-material plastics