Confused About What Plastics to Recycle? Do the Twist!

posted 4/27/2016

You are not alone if you’re confused about what types of plastic can go in your curbside recycling cart. Americans generated 33 million tons of plastic waste in 2013 which, according to the EPA, accounts for nearly 13 percent of all municipal solid waste. In the 1960s, plastic made up only 1 percent of the waste stream.

And, that’s a lot of plastic creating a lot of confusion. Luckily, there is a very simple way to know what type of plastic to recycle in your curbside cart. And it goes like this…

Do The Twist!

The best way to know if a plastic is recyclable in your curbside cart is if it has a twist-off lid. That’s it. Does the lid twist off the container? If yes, then toss it (with the lid on it) in your cart. This includes plastic containers like water and soda bottles, milk jugs, laundry detergent bottles, peanut butter and miracle whip jars and similar containers with twist-off lids.

If it doesn’t have a twist-off lid, then it doesn’t belong in your cart. This includes plastic bags, bubble wrap, toys, baskets, flower pots, garden hoses and other plastics without a twist-off lid. Many of these items can be reused, donated or recycled somewhere other than your curbside cart. Plastic bags, for example, can be taken back to many grocery and retail stores to be recycled.

Test your knowledge of what items are and are not accepted in your curbside cart by watching our plastic recycling video.

Why Can’t All Plastics Be Recycled?

There are two factors that determine what plastics are accepted in your cart. 1.) The plastic is able to be efficiently and accurately sorted at the recycling sorting facility. 2.) There must be a market demand for the type of plastic.

Not all plastics are created equally. There are thousands of different types of plastics, each with its own chemical composition. Melting points and manufacturing processes vary. In order to successfully recycle plastics, those with similar makeup must be separated from those that differ. Recycling facilities can’t feasibly sort every type of plastic, so they must be selective and accept those that are the most common with the greatest demand for resale. Because most containers with twist-off lids are made of the most desirable plastics, they help ensure a sustainable, successful recycling program.

The Curb It! recycling program has one exception to the twist-off lid rule:  Yogurt and margarine tubs are accepted. Because market demand for this type of plastic is very low, only a small amount can be taken.  Cottage cheese, sour cream and whipped topping containers are excluded because accepting too much of this “undesirable plastic” puts the program in jeopardy.

Does It Really Matter?

Yes! The problem with tossing non-recyclable plastics into your cart is that they will contaminate the entire recycling stream. If the quality of the plastic is low because of contamination, it is devalued on the market. Manufacturers pay significantly less for contaminated plastics, or they won’t buy them at all.

What if the Container has the “Chasing Arrows” symbol?

You can toss out any previous knowledge of symbols and numbers. The “chasing arrows” symbol with the number inside – usually located on the bottom of plastic containers— doesn’t necessarily mean it’s recyclable in your cart. It is a symbol adopted by the plastic industry years ago to identify the type of plastic.

Keep it easy and keep it fun. When it comes to plastic recycling, just do the twist.