Take our quiz and test your environmental IQ
Think you know a lot about plastics and how to recycle them? Take our quiz to find out.
1. How many types of plastic are there?
2. Which types of plastic are accepted at most recycling centers?
3. Which type of plastic is not easy to recycle?
4. How many years does it take for plastic to biodegrade in landfills?
1. A: 7
Plastics fall into seven general categories, which are divided by the type of resin contained in the plastic. The resin type is identified by a number (from one to seven) inside a triangle of arrows on the bottom of the product.
2. A: # 1 PET and #2 HDPE
#1 and #2 plastics are most commonly accepted at recycling centers nationwide, with a few exceptions for items such as plastic bags. It's important to note that recycling plastic is often referred to as downcycling, which means it becomes a lower-quality material. Recycled plastic bottles don't become the same kind of plastic bottle, but rather a product such as plastic lumber. Read more about plastic recycling and safety in this report from Co-op America.
3. C: #3 PVC
All plastics from #1 to #6 are thermoplastics, which can be melted down and remolded into new products. However, few facilities accept PVC, as it is difficult to recycle ? the chlorine molecule it contains keeps it from mixing properly with other plastics when heated. Because the majority of plastic bottles in the United States are made of #1 and #2 resins, separate processes and facilities that recycle PVC are not considered cost-effective and are therefore unlikely to develop in the near future. It's best to steer clear of #3.
4. D: 1000
The Earth Policy Institute estimates that buried plastic bottles can take up to 1,000 years to break down, and therefore will continue to hog much-needed space in landfills. In contrast, a banana peel and many other types of organic waste take only a few weeks.
Plastic is derived from crude oil ? according to the Earth Policy Institute, it takes approximately 17 million barrels of oil just to make the amount of bottles used by Americans annually for bottled water, which is enough to fuel 1,000,000 U.S. cars for a year. Conversely, each ton of plastic bottles recycled saves about 3.8 barrels of oil, according to the American Chemistry Council.
Last November, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) proposed the Bottle Recycling Climate Protection Act. The bill was designed to encourage nationwide plastic recycling by establishing a 5 cent deposit on plastic beverage containers. While 11 states already have similar systems in place, Markey recognized the need to increase the effort. The bill is currently awaiting action by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
Wondering what to do with your used plastic bottles? Earth 911 has an online search function that will help you find facilities in your area that are equipped to accept plastics; you can even search by resin number. Remember, many different kinds of food and drink containers fall into the category of the #1 and #2 plastic bottles or jars that are commonly accepted by recycling centers, so don't trash your salad dressing bottles, peanut butter jars, shampoo bottles, etc. without checking for those numbers first. You can leave the labels on them, but be sure to remove the caps.
How did you do on our quiz? Let us know by posting a comment below.