5 Odd Recyclable Plastics

Callaway golf ball on the green grass

A common golf ball is made from rubber and plastic. More than 300 million golf balls are discarded in the U.S. each year. Photo: Flickr/WebWideJosh

From your car, to your desk, to your kitchen table, plastics are all around us and make up the products we interact with daily.

While you may already know how to recycle your common plastics (water bottles, bags and milk jugs, just to name a few), do you really know what to do with those “other” plastics?

Disposable dinnerware

The average American office worker goes through around 500 disposable cups over the course of 12 months. Americans even toss out enough paper and plastic cups, forks and spoons every year to circle the equator 300 times.

Much for the common disposable dinnerware, such as plastic utensils, cups and plates, is made from plastic #6. It’s the same resin used to make polystyrene foam, but because these materials are not extremely lightweight, they are easier to recycle.

We are avid touters of using your reusable dinnerware for your next shindig, but if your guest list exceeds your supply and disposable is your only option, look for dishware made from plastics that are recyclable in your curbside program or dishes that can be washed and reused.

Preserve tableware and utensils are a great choice. Made from 100 percent recycled materials, Preserve makes an entire line of dishes, cups and utensils that are sturdy enough to withstand the rigors of everyday use. They have two versions of their tableware, one for regular use in your home and one that more closely resembles the lighter make of disposables for easy transport. Both are dishwasher and microwave safe.


Carpet is widely used (and hugely discarded) in the U.S. In fact, the amount of carpet sent to landfills each year could cover an area bigger than New York City.

According to the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE), carpet is difficult to recycle because of the many substances that constitute it. For example, in a typical carpet, the two main components are the face fiber and the backing system. The face fiber is what you see and walk on, is the most valuable portion of the carpet for recycling and is typically made of nylon, polypropylene, polyester, latex, PVC, among other materials.

To recycle residential carpet, your dealer is a good place to start to find local solutions for recycling. If you are in the commercial sector, contact your representative at the carpet mill to find out how they can assist you. Also, some nonprofit organizations such as Habitat for Humanity accept relatively clean carpet for reuse.

You also can reuse carpet at home for floor mats and runners, cat scratching posts and to stifle weeds in your garden instead of pesticides.

Recycled carpet can become a number of substances from auto parts and plastic lumber to parking stops and carpet backing. When buying new carpet, look for product made from recycled materials. By buying recycled carpet, you help create a demand to continue recycling efforts.


We often think about recycling in the kitchen, garden or even the office, but we sometimes tend to forget about the bathroom. Your bottles of shampoo, soap, lotion, hair gel and mouthwash are all made of recyclable plastic. The trick is remembering to toss them in the bin.

Most shampoo bottles are made from plastic #2 (HDPE), which is a highly recycled plastic in curbside programs. Photo: Flickr/Shoot Art, Not Each Other

Check out the small number in the center of the recycling symbol on these bottles, and you’ll more than likely find that they are made from plastic #2 (HDPE), which is a highly recycled plastic.

Its chemical makeup makes it durable and ideal for packaging. You will also find this resin in detergent bottles, milk and juice containers and plastic bags.

While the bottles are pretty straightforward, makeup containers can be a little tricky, as they are commonly made of plastic #5.

Origins was the pioneer nationwide cosmetic company to offer consumer cosmetic packaging recycling, regardless of brand. Empty cosmetic tubes, bottles, lipstick covers, jars and caps can be brought to an Origins retail store or department store counter nationwide for recycling or energy recovery.

As an added bonus, customers will receive a free sample of an Origins skincare product for bringing in their empty containers.

MAC cosmetics accepts its packaging back for recycling either in-store or online, and you receive a free MAC lipstick with the return of six containers.

Lego Toys

We get a lot of questions about recycling toys, but the truth is that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. This is because toys are made from so many different materials that include plastics, electronics and hazardous materials.

However, Lego toys are a different story. While they fall under the ominous plastic #7 category (which is a mixture of different resins), we were surprised to find how high the demand is for donating and reusing this toy.

“Lego Bricks are recyclable, just not in the way that most people think of recycling. Lego bricks are one of those things that never break and most people pass them down from generation to generation, thus keeping them alive,” a Lego representative told Gizmodo in a 2008 interview.

“Also, during production we recycle all of the residual plastic used. In the molding machines, we crunch any faulty elements and put the granulate back in to the mold. Plastic that we can no longer use is sold to industries that can make use of them.”

While plastic #7 is often hard to recycle, there are several donation options for Legos, from avid collectors to charity organizations. Check out your local Habitat for Humanity, nursery school or childcare center. Legos also fetch a pretty nice return (depending on type) on sites like Ebay.

Golf balls

Most golf balls are made in two or three parts. A two-piece ball is made of rubber and plastic, and is mostly used by the casual golfer.

According to Arizona-based Dixon Golf, more than 300 million golf balls are discarded in the U.S. each year. That’s enough golf balls to make a solid line from Los Angeles to London!

You can bring in golf balls to a Dixon Golf retail location or mail them in for recycling. Added bonus: Recycling Dixon brand golf balls will earn you a $1 towards a new ball (or 50 cents for other brands).

OnlyGolfBalls.com will buy old golf balls in bulk. The best part is that you get to e-mail them and make an offer for your used golf balls. Also, check out LostGolfBalls.com to purchase recycled and used golf balls.

Read more
Wow, You Can Recycle That?
I Didn’t Know That Was Recyclable!
Reuse Your Odd Plastic

Earth911 partners with many industries, manufacturers and organizations to support its Recycling Directory, the largest in the nation, which is provided to consumers at no cost. The American Chemistry Council is one of these partners.

Feature image courtesy of mbeo

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  1. Some items like plastic dinnerware and plastic hangers don’t have any recycle number listed. Does anybody know if this falls into numbers 1-7? I am lucky to live in a community that takes all numbers 1-7. However, if there is no number, is it not acceptable?

  2. Why is Earth 911 constantly posting positive articles about the plastics and chemical industry who are responsible for a myriad of environmental problems?

  3. There’s some nice tips here. Carpets seem really difficult to get rid off. But more environmentally friendly carpets should be made available that people can afford.

  4. I’m also under the impression that unmarked plastics are not recyclable. I’m in the process of replacing my backup tapes at work, so I need to get rid of hundreds of clear plastic cases. They’re some near-clear, semi-rigid plastic, but they aren’t marked. I think I’ll end up with ten or twenty pounds of the stuff, and I don’t think I can do anything but throw them out. I would love to hear if that’s not the case and unmarked plastics can be treated as #7.

    (Edited to correct a missing word .. whoops.)

  5. Great article! We have to live with plastic, it’s here to stay. It’s also amazing how many unmarked plastics can be recycled – like cereal bags. Check with your local recycler to find out exactly what they will take for recycling. Together we can educate others by making wise consumer choices which send a very strong message about what plastics we like and which ones we don’t. And please, just say no to disposable dinnerware. It’s not a big deal to wash and reuse your metal ware. Keep informing us, Earth 911!

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