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Because You Asked

Because You Asked: Can I Recycle Unmarked Plastic?

By Recyclebank |
Plastic recycling isn’t always as easy as 1, 2, 3. 

Dear Recyclebank: Can I assume that I can recycle any type of rigid plastic, even if it is not marked with any recycling number or symbol, if my hauler accepts numbers 1-7? –Julie L.

Dear Julie: The (unfortunate) answer you’ll get in most municipalities around the country is that unmarked plastics belong in the trash with other unrecyclable waste. In Wilmington, DE, for example, unmarked rigid plastics like patio chairs and plastic buckets need to be put in the garbage, assuming they fit in your cans (if they don’t, you need to schedule a special pick-up). There are exceptions to this practice, though: In some places, all plastics — including large, unmarked household plastics like mops and storage buckets and also smaller unmarked plastics like bottle caps... but excluding plastic bags and Styrofoam — are recyclable and should be put in the recycling bin.

The main issue with recycling unmarked plastic items is that there is no way of knowing what plastics were used to produce them, which means the MRF won’t know how to process the plastic for reuse. The only way to know what a given plastic is made of is to ask the manufacturer or have the plastic tested. This same problem exists when recycling plastics labeled with the resin identification code (RIC) 7. RIC 7 is the “other” category, and can be made up of one single type of plastic or a mix of plastics. (To crack the Resin Identification Code and learn more about the various plastics you use every day view Recyclebank’s slideshow.)

Without exception you should only put items in the recycling bin that you know your waste hauler accepts. If you find yourself questioning whether a plastic item is recyclable or not, contact your municipality to get an answer — you don’t want to contaminate your recyclables with items your MRF won’t process. If you can’t get an official answer regarding the item in question, throw it out with your regular garbage or find a creative way to reuse it, and try to avoid buying unlabeled plastics in the future.

Have you found creative ways to deal with unlabeled plastics? Share your tips in the comments below.
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  • Carolyn R. 1 month ago
    Styrofoam is not recyclable, that I know. Are the foam containers that fast food comes in, that have the recycle symbol with numbers recyclable with plastics?
  • tommy b. 1 month ago
  • aria c. 10 months ago
    A lot of these plastic tops from cooking oil sprays I keep using them as scoopers. I measures 1 cup. One can use them for scooping up potting soil or small planters. Also, I use for dry foods like oatmeal, flour, setting the tops in the container. Many uses just as long they are wide and deep.
  • Kristin R. 10 months ago
    I keep a box full of "things that should be recycled but can't". We have done many craft projects with them when the kids were younger. I also have donated the boxes (I refill all the time) to school or kids museums as they are often looking for these types of items for hands on activities. For example, my daughter's school had a "dig", where they buried items (artifacts) from a made up civilization. Many of the artifacts were from me - the kids had very creative ideas as to what the items was used for in their made up civilization. Also, they have used things in the box for an art project. I got lucky - they repeated the art project in the seven years they were there so I got to donate twice. There class had the most creative art projects because of the unique assortment of items. It was great, I didn't add to the landfills and the kids had fun.
  • joanna l. 10 months ago
    I think that a good place to start would be to find out which plastics are accepted curbside in your area and try to avoid using any other type if possible.
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