That little recyling symbol: what does it really mean?

March 9, 2014
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On plastics, you’ll see a little number in the middle of it. What that number means is a topic for a future post. It’s not what you’d think, and it’s kind of complicated. The good news is there’s only one key thing to remember: 

“Just because something is recyclable SOMEWHERE, doesn’t mean it’s recyclable where you live.”

No recycling plant recycles everything. They have certain equipment, and they have certain markets. They are not doing this because they’re all green-hearted and everything — though they may also be that. But the bottom line is, as always:

They’re in it for the money.

They have to be. They have to sell what they make. They melt down three or four plastic items into little pellets. Then they sell the pellets to a local factory that melts the pellets into flowerpots which they in turn sell to the area nurseries. The pellets have to be right. There’s a recipe, just like cooking. They can’t just throw any old thing in there, or the flowerpots won’t turn out right.

That’s why curbside collection only takes certain plastics — because they have a finite number of LOCAL plants they can take it to. There might be a recycling plant in a faraway land that DOES recycle that other thing, but your curbside collection people are not going to ship it there.

next: Well darn it. What can I do with my kid’s BigWheel that I ran over with my SUV?

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