Nearly all Americans have access to a plastics recycling program, which means you and your family can likely help the environment by recycling plastic bottles, containers, bags and other plastic packaging. You’ve heard it before: every day is Earth Day—so it’s time to recycle every day.
Many community recycling programs are accepting more and more plastics*—and you may be surprised to learn how many types of plastic packaging can be recycled into new, useful products!
Recycling Plastic Bottles
Beverage bottles made with polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic are collected in most curbside programs. This plastic is often melted, stretched into a fine thread, and then woven into soft, durable fabrics used to make things such as clothing, upholstery, and carpeting.
Tip: it’s okay to leave the caps on the bottles; they’ll be removed and processed separately at the recycling facility.
Detergent and cleaning product bottles are usually made with high-density polyethylene (HDPE), a strong, corrosion-resistant plastic. It is often recycled into outdoor furniture and other durable products such as plastic lumber, park benches, roadside curbs, truck cargo liners, trash receptacles—and new bottles. (Tip: rinse your bottles with water before tossing them in the recycling bin to remove remnants of the detergent or cleaning product.)
Recycling Plastic Bags
Plastic bags are often made with HDPE or low-density polyethylene (LDPE) plastic. These bags are collected at many chain grocery stores and large retailers, including Target, Walmart and Lowe’s. Plastic bags generally are recycled into plastic lumber for decks, fences and furniture – and into new plastic bags.
Before recycling bags, be sure they are free of food remnants, and remove any zipper closures. Plastic wraps from drycleaners, newspapers, and many consumer products can be collected with plastic bags.
Recycling Plastic Containers
Plastic containers for products such as yogurt, cottage cheese, and margarine are now collected in many curbside programs. They are often made with polypropylene (PP) plastic that is recycled into things such as battery cables, landscape borders, cafeteria trays, and furniture. (Tip: some grocery store chains, such as Whole Foods, also collect these containers).
Recycling Plastic Foam
Plastic foam used to make packaging often is made with polystyrene (PS) plastic that has been expanded with air. Innovative recycling programs can turn foam packaging into insulation, picture frames, building products—and new packaging. (Tip: some shipping companies, such as UPS, accept polystyrene foam packing peanuts for re-use.)
The Bottom Line: Recycle Plastic
When you consider all the different types of new products that can be made with post-consumer plastics, it’s easy to see why they are such valuable materials. Getting the whole family involved in collecting plastics around the house is a great way to make sure this resource doesn’t go to waste. So recycle plastic bottles, containers, bags, and other plastic packaging—every day.
* Plastic recycling programs differ; check to see what plastic can be recycled in your community.