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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  1. Hi Greens
    This article make a lot of sense,I will teach my three year old daughter to separate
    #5 from #2 and #1.
    The greatest advantage of #5 plastic is that children can have fun collecting them. caps generally comes in assorted colour also can be use as a learning aid for toddler.

    Amanda Wills beautiful article.* one question!
    What plastic bags # (shopping bag)


  2. Simiya was asking about shopping bags…the common 99 cent non-woven polypropylene bags are #5, which while improving, is still not recycled by most municipalities. The typical plastic bag given by stores often gums up the recycling machines so many recyclers do not accept them (Unfortunately, some retailers “collect for recycling” these bags and then simply dump them in the trash so consumers will feel better). My Ecoroot mesh bag is resin code 2, so when it does eventually wear out, you can toss it in your recycle bin with no worries.

  3. I’ve been told although I have no confirmation that when you throw a water bottle with the cap on it into the recycle bin the sorters will remove the bottle with cap and dispose of it making your effort to recycle worthless. I’m hoping this is not true but regardless I’ve taught my family to always remove the cap. Now I see that there may be hope for that #5 cap so it doesn’t hit the landfill.

  4. It used to just kill me that perscription bottles and caps were not recyclable. I tried talking the pharmacy into taking them back and reuse. They claimed policy prevented this practice. They couldn’t tell me who manufactures the vials. (I’d have mailed them my stockpile) I kept saving them hoping to find enough uses. It dawned on me one day at the vet clinic, as the vet was rumaging the drawers for a vial to pour some pills into from her bulk container. Now they love to see me come in every so often with my bag of empty vials (my dog not so much…she’s the female version of Marley) as they have a never ending need for them. I also feel that if I, and others, can do this for my vet clinic then it helps them keep their supplies cost down that much more, and that savings gets passed on to us as clients.

  5. My husband and I re-use prescription pill bottles as containers to take our salad dressing to work. Most will keep a tight seal for 6 months or longer.

    Also, I just started going to a local Aveda salon for my haircuts so I plan to take advantage of their cap recycling program, but even if you don’t frequent Aveda salons, you can go to the Aveda website to see where the closest salon is to you and bring your caps in for recycling. You just may stick around for a trim or to buy some products, which are much more earth-friendly than most beauty products.

  6. When I operated a recycling center in our small community I found that a couple of the vets in town were happy to take and reuse prescription pill bottles for their veterinary clients. Legally pharmacies cannot reuse them but vets apparently do not have such rigid restrictions. Worth a try for anyone with prescription pill bottles you’d like to see reused. Good Luck!

  7. Pingback: 100% Recycled Plastic Spa Baby Eco | Inhabitots

  8. I have a question. I am looking to find out how I can recycle #5 feed bags that come from Purina Mills and Nutrena. Any help?

  9. Does anyone know where to recycle #5 plastic bags (Lego kits are packaged in #5)? Can I add them with the other #5 containers?

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