A Guide to Recycling Plastics

Learn about the seven types of plastics —and products typically made from them — to make recycling plastics easier.

| May 2014

  • When recycling plastics it's important to keep in mind that they're often turned into something secondary, like fleece fabric, rather than what they were originally.
    Photo by Fotolia/photka
  • Amy Korst offers lessons and tips for sustainable, low-impact living based on her own yearlong experiment in “The Zero-Waste Lifestyle.”
    Cover courtesy Ten Speed Press

Trash is a big, dirty problem. The average American tosses out nearly 2,000 pounds of garbage every year. The Zero-Waste Lifestyle (Ten Speed Press, 2012) is a guide to a healthier, happier and more sustainable life by way of creating less trash. Author Amy Korst used lessons from her yearlong experiment in zero-waste living to offer hundreds of simple ideas and low-impact tips. Eliminate the unnecessary from life and help preserve the planet’s future. The following excerpt from Chapter 2 discusses everything you need to know about recycling plastics.

This book can be purchased from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: The Zero-Waste Lifestyle.

Recycling Plastics

In the recycling world, starting a discussion about plastics is like waltzing through a minefield. The issues surrounding this material are laden with emotion, misunderstandings, and sensationalism. At some point in your zero-waste journey, you will encounter some of these issues.

Is Plastic Truly Recyclable?

The truest definition of recycling involves taking a material, melting it down, and turning it back into itself over and over. This can be done with glass and metal, which can both be remelted and remolded into jars or cans forever. This is a closed-loop system, and it’s very desirable in the world of recycling. On the other hand, some materials slowly degrade over time, meaning they can be reformed maybe once or twice, but after awhile the chemical composition of the original substance has changed and it can no longer be turned back into what it once was. This is called downcycling.

Plastic is similar to paper in that it downcycles, though it has a much shorter life in the recycling stream—sometimes it’s not even recycled once before it is turned into a less-valuable material. Plastic water or soda bottles, for example, are rarely turned back into bottles. Instead, the plastic is used for something secondary like fleece fabric or plastic lumber. This means that virgin plastic (made from fossil fuels) is still needed for the manufacture of new plastic bottles.

12/30/2015 6:57:50 AM

There are several ways to recycling products or we may call waste products into used one. Mostly manufacturing company and other companies are trying this concept of recycling. But apart from that we should also follow the footsteps of recycling products in home also and therefore we start experimenting from plastics products and I am sure that from here we should learn some crucial tips from here regarding recycling process. http://tennisballcourts.com/

10/19/2015 8:43:44 AM

Good article. I have been making Plarn bags by repurposing plastic grocery sacks, Mylar and even VCR & cassette tapes, all of which seem to be ignored by community recycling programs. Since they can cause death for many creatures if eaten, it is important to enact 'no bag' laws to keep them out of the waste stream, and ban all ocean garbage dumping. I sell my work at www.ecouturehandmades.Etsy.com


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