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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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  • tommy b. 1 month ago
  • Martha G. 1 month ago
    We are in the Rio Grande Valley of deep south Texas and we found a lady who takes plastic lids to Mexico and they make prosthetics. I wish there was a nationwide program for this.
  • Cindy W. 1 month ago
    I think all plastic should be labeled. Plastic that is not recyclable because it contains different materials should also be labeled as well. They could use the Recyclable Icon with a line slashed through it. US should keep the same guidelines they have for our countries companies with all foreign countries products or refuse to accept them. It is not uncommon for foreign countries to ban some of the USA's products if they don't coincide with their laws.
  • Gina L. 1 month ago
    The national news stated today to leave lids on plastic bottles. The reason: Recycling doesn't want flat/squished plastic. Again, check out your local hauler. I was amazed to see this reported on the air. It seems many news sources don't do their homework.
  • valaria n. 2 months ago
    can anyone tell me why, on some of the newer plastics, there is no RIC code? i am talking about brand new, regular type containers that used to have the triangle on storage and what not. thank you
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