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.