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Plastics

Educational Resources

    Many people ask CVWMA for clarification about recycling plastic items.  The curbside and drop-off programs accept narrow-necked plastic bottles labeled with a number 1 or number 2 ONLY.  This includes many soda and water bottles, milk and juice jugs, and household cleaner bottles.  Plastics with other numbers or 1 and 2 plastics that are not bottles (like margarine tubs) are not recyclable in this program.

    How to tell the difference…

    • First, look for a “neck” area that separates the body of the bottle from the place where the cap or lid twists or snaps on.  As a general rule, the mouth or opening of the container must be narrower than the body.
    • Then, check the number on the bottom.  Look for one of the two symbols to the right.  The symbol may be hard to spot on a clear bottle.
    • If it has a “neck” and a 1 or 2 on the bottom, recycle it!

     

    I’m Confused? A Cool Whip tub and plastic bottle both have a 2 on the bottom.  Isn’t this the same plastic?

    •  Yes, it is the same family of plastics.  But the two forms have been slightly modified to achieve different properties for strength, fluidity, crack resistance, etc.   Even when the plastic number is the same, the manufacturing processes to create those qualities make the two containers incompatible.  Some plastic containers, such as milk jugs and laundry detergent bottles, are made in a process called blow-molding.

     

    Other plastic containers, such as margarine tubs and sour cream containers, are made in a process called injection-molding. When resins produced by different processes are mixed together, the resulting product is no longer appropriate for use in either manufacturing process.

    Here’s why:

    •  In the blow-molding process the plastic must be thick and tacky, whereas in the injection-molding process the plastic must be thin and runny.
    • Injection-mold grade plastics have a high melt flow index, meaning the liquid plastic moves fast to quickly fill a mold.  For this reason, injection-mold grade is preferred for wide-mouth containers, also for objects with complicated shapes (e.g., toys).  The mold (die) for an injection-molded item has many orifices allowing the runny plastic to be forced into the mold through many holes to fill the mold quickly.
    • Blow-mold grade plastics flow slowly by comparison.   Key characteristics of blow-mold grade are stiffness and strength.  Blow-mold can literally be blown up like a balloon and will resist the pull of gravity.  This allows the “balloon” to be blown up inside the mold, through a single orifice, and because the resin holds its shape, it will expand out to fill the dimensions/form of the mold.  Also, the finished product is stronger (better crack resistant, less chance of pinhole failure, etc) than an injection-molded item.  Blow-molding is suited for making bottles due to their narrow-neck shape, and specialized molding systems make it efficient.
    • Blow-mold grade bottles are also strong for heavy loads, such as a gallon of some liquid.  Many injection-molded containers are for lightweight products (butter, Cool Whip, etc) or  toys and tend to be weak and break easily.

    Can I recycle a motor oil bottle with a #2 on the bottom?

    No. Motor oil residue has become one of the biggest contaminants for our plastics markets. The residue seeps into the porous plastic and cannot be removed through the washing process. Of course you should never try to rinse or wash a motor oil bottle yourself since motor oil down the sink or storm drain causes a much larger environmental crisis than a plastic bottle in the trash.

    Save those containers to pour used motor-oil back in to for return to your local automotive parts store.

     

     Marketing plastics:

    Plastics with a number 1 or 2 on the bottom make up 70 percent of the market of plastic bottles and are increasing every day.  The strength of this demand makes collection possible.  If municipal programs collected materials without manufacturer demand, the materials would sit in a warehouse. The manufacturing aspect of the “cycle” is just as important as the collection part.

    In our region, we only have markets for the bottle form of HDPE (#2) and PET (#1) plastic.  For that reason, we can only accept blow-molded (bottles with necks) and not injection-molded material  (tubs and cups).   We accept  #1 and #2 plastics in the bottle or “necked” form only.  The “tub” form used in many sour cream, butter or yogurt containers is not acceptable.

     

    Markets for plastic containers are challenging for the following reasons:

    1) Many applications for plastic involve direct contact with food.   Plastic containers are used for many household industrial chemicals, such as laundry or dish detergent.  These kinds of plastics cannot be recycled into food-grade containers.

    2) Other applications for plastics require brilliant pure colors.  When plastics of many different pigments, plus the inks on packaging, are mixed together, the result is a dull army green.  It’s very difficult to convert this color to something pretty.  Plastic recyclers add carbon black and make black products (such as car parts) where specific colors are not required.

     

    If landfilling plastics numbered 3 through 7 concerns you, make choices to purchase recyclable packaging or find other ways to reuse nonrecyclable packaging.  Use them to store leftovers or small items or donate them to a school for use by the art department.  You may also wish to contact the manufacturers of products packaged in nonrecyclable materials to encourage them to look into more recyclable packaging.  Whole Foods (West Broad Village, Short Pump) has a Gimme 5 Take back Program and will accept other plastics for recycling through their distribution center.

    Why don’t you accept plastic bags?

    We do not collect plastic bags because they will jam the equipment at our processing facility.  Many local retail stores offer recycling containers for Plastic_Bag_Recycling, but these are not CVWMA programs.   Because of the nuisance plastic bags cause our community when they become litter and blow around, we recommend reusable bags, whether they are canvas or paper.  Canvas bags can be reused for years, so they are the optimal choice.  Paper bags come from a renewable resource (trees) and if the handles break or they tear, they can be recycled in CVWMA’s curbside or drop-off recycling programs!

     

    Video: What Happens to Plastic Water Bottles?  Check out this video by Earth911