The Waste Biz: Consumers Need Help Recycling Plastic

plastic recycling symbol
plastic recycling symbol
Photo credit: Shutterstock


Do you have trouble remembering which plastics can go in your recycling bin? Even if you can figure out the number on that stamped symbol on the bottom of a plastic container, you may not remember offhand if your recycling program accepts, say, #6 or #7 plastics. You may just toss the item in the bin anyway… or you may put it in the trash. Both of these choices have potential negative repercussions: we know that throwing away a recyclable item creates unnecessary environmental and economic costs, but putting the wrong plastic in your recycling bin can contaminate other materials. Why is recycling plastic so difficult?

Tom Szaky, the founder of Terracycle, addresses this issue in a Packaging Digest article. The current system wasn’t designed for consumers, but for recyclers. And, unlike people in the business, the average person doesn’t understand – or care about – the type of resin in a product, or whether a hybrid package has some materials that can be recycled, and some that can’t. S/he just wants to know if they can toss _____ in the blue bin. Szaky points to the How2Recycle label as a consumer focused alternative: created byΒ GreenBlue’s Sustainable Packaging Coalition, this label focuses on consumer needs… and, if implemented, could help raise plastic recycling rates.

Think it’s time for a different system for recycling plastic? Share your thoughts, or point us to other ideas about how to better serve consumers who want to recycle everything they can.

In other news from the waste sector:

Interactive waste bin gives you a pat on the back: Most of us who recycle do so because we want to do the right thing. TheΒ Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi has created a waste bin for public spaces that informs you of the environmental impact of the recyclable item you just deposited. When you, for instance, put a plastic bottle in one of these bins (currently a prototype), you might hear “By recycling a plastic bottle you saved enough energy to run your fridge for over 2 hours without having any negative impact on our environment!” Don’t you feel good?

Upcycler wants to take over the world: We feature Donna Fenn’s Remade in Britain a few months ago. This week, Bdaily featured an interview with the entrepreneur about her business, including her plans for global expansion (in the long term).

Plastic film, bags recycling increases: A new report from the American Chemistry Council shows an 11% increase in the recycling of post-consumer plastic wraps, bags, and films. Part of the reason: small and mid-size stores are now offering drop-off centers for these materials. (via Waste Dive)

  1. Marvin Larry Klitzke

    I agree the average person may not care about the recycling process or even want to take the time to understand it because they also might be over taxed in their everyday life. So, learning a new process they might not be interested in doing. Therefore if they are not willing to take the time to learn a new way the thought process has to be taken out of it and made simple for a slight change in behavior to occur. Like in my paper towel waste reduction invention


    I have made a simplified process which fits within most people’s everyday life activities that is convenient to use and easily adaptable to everyday living.

    With manufactures targeting the retail environments maybe in addition to the numbering system on the container itself instead of using the color of white behind their bar codes placed on an a label or container they could go to a color code system that represents a recyclable category then when the consumer sees the
    square blocked color behind the bar code numbers on the label or container they do not have to think about numbers and know directly which recycle bin to toss it into. If the label falls off of the container they can then refer to the number on the container itself.

    I do understand the implications of costs and things associated with adding
    another color. Our environment is worth a few extra pennies.

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