Dear Recyclebank: I was wondering, can I recycle clean plastic utensils and wooden chopsticks? –Lanny
Dear Lanny: The operative word there is “clean.” As we’ve covered, food waste can taint a batch of recycling. It sounds like you’ve got that down, though. You’ll be happy to know that if you have chopsticks or plastic utensils hiding in your kitchen, they don’t necessarily have to end up in the trash.
Plastic utensils are made from either polypropylene or hard polystyrene, identifiable by RICs (the numbers in the triangular symbol) 5 and 6, respectively. Hard polystyrene (NOT foamed polystyrene, AKA Styrofoam™) and polypropylene are recyclable in many areas, but as always, you should check your local program’s guidelines about plastic silverware, specifically: Even if the specific RIC is accepted, the size of plastic silverware makes them difficult for recycling machinery to handle, and can render them unrecyclable. Some curbside programs, like Fort Worth’s, will accept plastic utensils, but because plastic forks and knives are so small, some locations, like Easton, PA, will not. If neither your waste hauler nor your local recycling center accepts plastic utensils, you should throw them in the trash after the first use. While it may be tempting to reuse them a few times before tossing them, disposable utensils generally won’t hold up for long before warping and the potential for accumulated bacteria make them unusable.
Clean wooden chopsticks can be given new life — and avoid the landfill — in areas that accept scrap wood, yard waste, and other organic material for processing, such as in the Los Angeles area, where “green bins” are used. This waste will generally be sent to commercial composting facilities where it is processed and ground into mulch. If you have a compost pile at home, you can cut out the middleman and compost them yourself, though they’ll take a while to break down. If composting isn’t an option for you, try out one of these great repurposing ideas.
It may seem like an obvious suggestion, but try to avoid disposable utensils as much as possible. If you’re ordering takeout or delivery, ask them to leave out the forks, knives, and chopsticks. Some delivery services already have a built-in option for you to make this request on their website! If you’re planning a meal on the go that you can’t bring the good silverware along for, there are a number of options for more eco-friendly cutlery, like compostable plant-based utensils or sturdier utensils made from recycled plastic. Store them in your pantry, car, and in the office so they are easily available when you need them.