Dear Recyclebank: How can I properly recycle materials that contained oil products (cooking, auto, etc.)? They all seem to have the recycling symbol on them. –Mary Ann B.
Dear Mary Ann: Unfortunately, what we read as a “recycling symbol” (the resin identification code) isn’t necessarily a sign that you’ll be able to recycle the item where you live. It designates what kind of plastic it’s made of, but your local facilities may not have the capacity to handle that type of plastic or the form it’s produced in.
That said, even if you’ve confirmed that a type of plastic is okay to recycle in your area, containers that have held oil can be tricky. Residues can easily contaminate recycling batches; oil in particular can weaken the integrity of recycled paper. Because of this, you’ll want to make sure your containers are as oil-free as possible so they don’t affect other items in your bin. While washing with soap and water will most effectively remove oil, using too much water may cancel out the benefits of recycling. It doesn’t have to be spotlessly clean, so try using a paper towel or spatula to remove whatever oil is left over after use.
Auto oil containers should be handled differently since their contents can be hazardous. Check to see if your area has a household hazardous waste collection program by contacting your recycling center or a local environmental agency; they should be able to properly dispose of auto oil containers. Even better, consider recycling your motor oil and using the old container to transport it to its destination.