Recycling plastic is as easy as 1, 2…

By Chad Burden

Plastic is prolific. Science and technology have pushed the plastic envelope to thresholds unimaginable in 1973, the year when the first recyclable plastic (Pepsi) bottle was patented. Unfortunately, plastic is also filling up our landfills simply because people don’t realize that much of it can be recycled. Plastic waste constitutes a significant chunk of the entire municipal solid waste stream. According to the EPA, in 2005, plastics made up 12 percent (29 million tons) of the entire amount of waste generated in the United States.

So which plastics are recyclable? The clue lies with those little numbers with the arrows around them, on the bottom of plastic containers. They're called resin identification codes, and they indicate the type of plastic that an item is made from. The Society of the Plastics Industry introduced its resin coding system in 1988 at the urging of recyclers around the country. These numbers, ranging from 1 to 7, help consumers distinguish between the various plastic containers on the market; and aid companies in sorting materials for recycling. Currently in Tulsa, recycling enthusiasts are restricted to plastic bottles with Resin Code Nos. 1 or 2 because there are no nearby facilities available to process the other types of plastics.

Resin Code No. “1”: PETE or PET stands for polyethylene terephthalate (pronounced “tariff-they-late”), a plastic resin and a form of polyester. PET is the type of plastic labeled with the #1 code on or near the bottom of bottles and containers and is commonly used to package soft drinks, water, juice, peanut butter, salad dressings and oil, cosmetics and household cleaners. So basically, it’s everywhere.

Resin Code No. “2”: High Density Polyethylene (HDPE). Like #1 resins, #2 resins play an integral role in our daily lives and make up bottles for milk, water, juice, cosmetics, shampoo, dish and laundry detergents and household cleaners.

Some communities in Oklahoma and around the U.S. have started collecting plastics 1 through 7 at the curb. These programs lead customers to believe that all the plastics they throw in the recycling bin are being recycled, but that is usually not the case. Typically, the loads are hauled to a separator who removes the valuable 1s and 2s and sells them to a recycling company. The rest of the plastics are taken to a landfill. Under another program, called “All Plastic Bottles,” communities are collecting any kind of plastic bottle at the curb, and pulling out the 1s and 2s for recycling. These newer programs have led to higher volumes of plastic 1s and 2s being collected because customers do not do the separation; they simply throw all of their plastic containers in their recycling bins.

The curbside recycling service in Tulsa is not as easy as these newer programs, but it isn’t rocket science, either. Simply remove the lid or cap, rinse the bottle out with water, and toss it in your recycling bin. The plastic bottles can be mixed with other recyclables; there is no need to sort them before you put the bin at the curb.

If you can count to 2, you’re well on your way to diverting tons of plastic waste away from our landfills. Last year alone, almost 125 tons of plastic were recycled by Tulsa Recycles customers. The plastic was melted and turned into materials used to make many new products, including fiber for polyester carpet; fabric for T-shirts, long underwear, and fiberfill for sleeping bags and winter coats.

Curbside service in Bixby, Broken Arrow, and Owasso is provided by a private hauler. In Tulsa, you can sign up for curbside recycling by calling the City of Tulsa at 596-9777 or visiting www.tulsarecycles.com. Subscribers pay only $2 a month for twice a month pick-up, with the fee added on to their water bill. It’s simple. Recycling plastic is as easy as 1, 2…

Chad Burden, Master Recycler, was in the first class of Tulsa Master Recyclers that graduated in April 2008. The Tulsa Master Recyclers Program is a sponsored by the City of Tulsa. Volunteers are trained to assist in providing information and support to recyclers in the community.


Married2MrWright said...

We just moved to Tulsa from Northern California and were disappointed to find out that on type 1 and 2 are recycled here. It's made shopping a lot more challenging...many of our household "staples" come in containers other than 1 or 2. Same with fiberboard. OY! I hope OK improves their recycling capabilities in due time.

kimberly said...

I think recycling is a great alternative to save our planet or decrease the pollution. I think this problem still have a sollution, just depend of us. We need to think about our vehaviour and make a change and start to make the difference.

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