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How to Recycle Plastic

written by: Jennifer Claerr•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 5/24/2011

Plastic recycling codes can seem very confusing. Furthermore, your curbside recycling program may only take a small fraction of the total plastic that you use and discard. Here are a few tips on what to recycle at the curb and how to reuse the plastic your city's recycling program won't accept.

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    Plastic Recycling Basics

    There are many benefits to recycling plastic. It saves energy and prevents carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere. Still, it's easy to get confused when recycling plastic. The codes and symbols on the bottom of plastic items may be difficult to read. It is also hard to remember sometimes which types of plastic you can recycle. Most municipal recycling programs only accept PETE and HDPE plastic containers such as water and milk bottles with codes such as numbers 1 and 2 in curbside recycling bins. Plastic with recycling codes with numbers 3 through 7 can't be recycled at the curb in many cases. Curbside recycling programs also usually don't take plastic bags, styrofoam or plastic objects such as old toys. When all is said and done, you may end up throwing away more plastic than you recycle. Even if you can't put these types of plastic out to the curb, there are still ways you can reuse or recycle them.

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    Ways to Reuse Plastic

    One of the best ways to recycle plastic is to reuse it. Reusing is the easiest way to recycle, but in many instances it is the one that used the least. Simply clean plastic bottles and other containers such as plastic cups, butter tubs, egg cartons, plates and utensils with warm water and dish soap. Then find a place in your home where you can store these recyclables. Then the recyclables will be handy when you need them. Fill recycled plastic bottles with water and place them in the empty spots in your refrigerator to save on your electric bill. Use clean recycled plastic bags as packing material when you move or send things through the mail. However, don't reuse plastics that are coded with number 3 are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which often contains toxins as it degrades. To stay on the safe side, never burn recycled number 3 plastics or allow them to come in contact with food.

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    Reuse and Recycle Plastic in Arts and Crafts

    Another way to recycle plastic that can't be set out to the curb is to use it for recycled art and craft projects. Plastic bottles are particularly useful and versatile when used to make homemade crafts such as this recycled plastic bottle fish project. Recycled plastic egg cartons make handy containers for craft paint and small objects such as beads. They are also the perfect material for making small animal crafts. Those huge plastic margarine tubs also make useful containers for craft supplies. Recycled plastic also makes a great material for many holiday craft projects such as Christmas ornaments. Clean plastic bags can double for cloth in many recycled craft projects. Be sure to get your recyclables organized before you get started on your plastic arts and crafts projects.

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    Recycle Plastic with Your Local Recycling Programs

    When recycling plastic waste, be sure to familiarize yourself with your local curbside recycling program's policies. Regularly check in your utility bills from the city or look on your city's website for information on which plastics to recycle at the curb. Rinse out plastic food containers and throw away the caps and lids. Then place anything you don't plan to reuse in a recycling organizer or curbside recycling bin.

    Even if your local curbside recycling program won't accept your plastic grocery bags, chances are there is a grocery store near you that will recycle them. Just check for the plastic bag recycling bins at the front of the store when you shop for food. There are also places that accept number 6 extended polystyrene (EPS) plastics for recycling. Check the Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers website or for a recycling company near you. You can also find a lot of information about plastics recycling on the EPA website. Also, don't forget to buy products made from recycled plastic to support recycling. Many products from trash cans to picnic tables are made from recycled plastic, so you're sure to find something you need no matter what your budget is.


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