360: Recycling Plastic #5

Yogurt cups are made from #5 plastic

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Earth911’s 360 series breaks down the ins and outs of your everyday items.

Plastic #5 is more a part of your life than you make think. From your favorite vanilla yogurt to the prescription medicine bottle above your sink, polypropylene is a durable material that’s perfect for packaging.

According to the American Chemistry Council (ACC), #5 is a similar resin to plastic #2, which makes it more appealing to reclaimers who can use the material for water filtration systems, shipping pallets, sheeting and automotive battery casings and garbage and recycling bins.

But what does that mean to you? While in the past most curbside programs in the U.S. only accepted plastic bottles, that is quickly changing as plastic #5 programs are proving successful.

So let’s uncover the mystery of plastic #5 and get down to the basics of recycling it.

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Plastic #5

1. It hangs with all types of crowds.
It can sometimes be recycled with PET, making the process easier and more cost-effective for both consumers and recyclers.

2. The people are loving it.
Sixty-two percent of California communities now have curbside access to non-bottle food container recycling. Out of the 100 largest communities nationwide, about one-third have curbside recycling programs for plastic #5.

3. It’s making waves.
According to the ACC, at least 325 million pounds of non-bottle plastics were collected for recycling in the U.S.

4. It’s no one-trick pony.
Polypropylene can be recycled back into its original form, or it can be made into products such as buckets, paint pails, automotive bumpers, automotive battery cases, furniture and flower pots. It is also used in many of the woven reusable bags you take along on your shopping trip. The list goes on…

5. The cap doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Even though they typically aren’t printed with a #5 symbol, most plastic bottle caps (like those on water and soda bottles) are made from polypropylene.

What’s The Big Fuss About?

Polypropylene has a good chemical resistance, is strong and has a high melting point. Therefore, it’s ideal for reusable food containers and other packaging that requires durability. But while this resin is as common as a ketchup bottle, it’s still often left out of curbside programs.

Keith Christman, senior director Market Advocacy for the ACC, says that is quickly changing as model communities’ success is catching on, and more programs are accepting several resins above plastics #1 and #2.

“Something we’re working on is towards that goal of being able to take all types of plastics,” Christman says. “When we started recycling plastics, we all focused on bottles. Now we are moving to rigid food containers. We see [commingled recycling] growing, and many other communities are looking to expand their programs. There’s  a lot of potential.”

According to Patty Moore, CEO of Moore Recycling Associates, there is a strong market for clean, large polypropylene items – more than 240 million pounds per year domestically. While the demand for these materials decreased with the recession in 2008, the prices have slowly climbed over the course of 2009.

A survey by Moore Recycling Associates found that none of the communities reported an extra cost associated with their expansion of plastic collection, and some communities even noted a slight reduction in landfill costs associated with plastics expansion.

What To Do Without Curbside

If your community does not accept plastic #5, here are two programs that can help:

1. Preserve Gimme 5
Preserve, a maker of household goods that utilize 100 percent recycled plastics and post-consumer paper, has partnered with Organic Valley and Stoneyfield Farms to recycle polypropylene. Simply drop off your containers at a designated Whole Foods location or mail them directly to Preserve.

2. Recycle Caps with Aveda

Aveda created its cap recycling program to ensure these little guys are not discarded on beaches or in water sources. Aveda accepts clean tops from shampoo, beverage and condiment bottles (such as ketchup and mayonnaise). Take your caps to an Aveda store, and the company will ship the caps to its own recyclers and use the material to make new caps for its hair and beauty products.

Feature image courtesy of Mr.TinDC

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