Recycling and Reusing By the Numbers

I feel guilty about not doing an Earth Day post, so let’s get our plastic on!

Even you live somewhere that doesn’t have a recycling plan (if that’s the case, then hopefully you’re a time traveler from the past who thinks this internet doo-dad is a real marvel), you’re no doubt aware that there is this concept called recycling and that a lot of folks participate.  What do we recycle?  Well, there’s paper, cardboard, cereal board, plastic, glass and tin – just to name a few.  Most recycling is pretty straight forward, but plastic can be tricky.


Takes more than one word to understand...

What’s the deal with plastic, anyway?  Apparently, sometimes you can reuse it and other times you can’t; sometimes you can recycle plastic and other times you have to throw it in the trash.  What the shiz is that about?  This confuses the hell out of me, but I’m starting to get a handle on it.  It all comes down to the numbers of the packaging.

Yeah, numbers.  I shizzing HATE numbers!  Numbers are a pain in the ass.  However, no mathematical computations are necessary here, so I can relax a little bit.

So yeah, there are numbers (or at least there usually are) on plastic; whether they’re bottles or containers, you’ll find a number inside a triangle.


These numbers actually mean something.  Frankly, I never noticed there were numbers there to begin with; I just always thought that the triangle-thingy meant this was a plastic product I could recycle, but no…  The number seems to tied into what type of plastic the vessel is made out of, which is entirely too technical for me to bother with, so all that one really needs to know is what this means for your particular area’s recycling program.

In my area, I can only put out items marked with the 1 and 2 in the recycling triangle seal thingy for curbside pickup.  That’s it.  Everything else goes in the garbage.  It’s a drag, but the local Whole Foods has a bin for plastic 5.  My town also doesn’t take cereal board boxes that go in the freezer – boxes that frozen food comes in.  For some reason, they can’t recycle those.  Don’t know what the deal is there; something about the coating on the box…

But back to plastics:  as far as I can tell, it sounds like you can reuse most plastics, but don’t quote me on that, nor should you stake your health on anything I’m saying here.  Do your own research!  So for most plastics (1 through 6), you can just wash them and you’re good to go.  However, it is apparently very hard to get those plastic water bottles clean, whether you wash them by hand or put them in the sink, and the necessary heat to sterilize them would compromise the plastic’s integrity anyway, and you don’t want to be ingesting that junk.  So yeah, I’m guessing that you don’t want to try sterilizing your disposable water bottles with boiling water.  However, I would guess that you could just throw them in the freezer over night – I can’t imagine that any bacteria inside the bottle could survive temperatures below freezing, but what do I know?  So bottom line, just recycle the bottles, it’s not worth the effort.

But then there’s plastic number 7 – my understanding is that you do NOT want to reuse these fellas under any circumstances and you should just toss them after use.  Don’t screw around!  However, I’ve been checking lately, and I seem to live a number 7 free existence…  or so I think!  From what I’ve read, I think plastic number 7 breaks down, which is probably good for the environment (or maybe just landfill space…), but bad for reusing for human consumption because you end up ingesting the plastic.

So what did we learn today?

  1. Just because it’s plastic doesn’t mean you can recycle it
  2. Not all plastics are reusable
  3. I have no legal responsibilities for what you choose to do with this information; do your own research!

Plastic isn’t out to kill you – it’s our friend.  We just have to manage it properly.  Recycle and reuse when we can, discard when we can’t, try not to use it at all when it falls into the later category.

About Jamie Insalaco

Jamie Insalaco is the author of, and editor in chief of

Posted on May 4, 2011, in observations and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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