Recycling Know-No’s ~ Part 6: Plastics!


By Gene Kalb

To steal a quote from The Graduate, “Ben, I have one word for you…. Plastics.”

One question was posed to Ed McGrath this week regarding what plastic items can be recycled and what items should go in the trash.

The inquiring resident noted that most plastic containers include a triangle with a number inside it to identify the type of plastic the container is made of but he couldn’t find any information on the Bedford DPW’s website or in the annual brochure explaining what plastics can and cannot be recycled.

“The recycling industry is trying to recover from China banning imports of recyclable material,” McGrath said. “In the seminars and meetings I’ve attended, we were told to forget about the “recycling symbol” on plastic packaging.”

To decide what to do with an item, McGrath says to ask yourself is the item a container? If yes, and it’s made of plastic, metal or glass, then it can go in your recycling bin. If not, it goes in the trash.

“A while back I was asked about recycling plastic coat hangers that had a #4 on them,” McGrath said. “When I said they couldn’t be recycled, the resident said but they have a #4. My response was, are the hangers a container. When she said no, I told her they go in the trash or she can donate them for reuse.”

According to McGrath, there is a market for #1 and #2 plastics. These are beverage containers, milk jugs, laundry detergent bottles, shampoo bottles, etc. There is also a market for #5 plastics (e.g. yogurt cups). As for the other plastics, they are worthless. The exception is plastic bags and similar items like dry cleaning bags, newspaper bags, case wraps, etc. These can be brought to a grocery or department store and are recycled by Trex into plastic lumber.

The other common items McGrath sees in peoples’ recycling bins each week are Styrofoam food trays and egg cartons and Styrofoam packaging. Even though they might have a #6 symbol, they should go into the trash.

ICYMI: Links to earlier columns

  1. Don’t Bag Recyclables
  2. Batteries
  3. Cartons
  4. Pizza Boxes
  5. Styrofoam

About Recycling Know-Nos

The Bedford Citizen has teamed up with Ed McGrath from the Bedford Department of Public Works in a new segment called “Know-Nos of recycling” to explain what happens once you put something in the recycle bin. We’ll also explain why it’s so important to only put the correct stuff in your recycle bins.  If you have questions, please send them along.

Recycling is good.  It helps the environment, helps the town, and makes you feel you’re doing your part.  That being said, not all things are easy to recycle, no matter what you may think.  Putting your Styrofoam coffee cup in the bin might feel right, but is actually detrimental and costly to us in Bedford.  There are other things that fall into the category of “should” be recycled, but without understanding what happens “downstream,” your wishful thinking could end up causing more trouble.  You may not have been aware that all recycled material gets sorted, and one of the most cost-effective sorts happens at your bin. Understanding what happens after your recycling bucket has been collected can help make that downstream work easier.  Accordingly, we are embarking on a new series that hopefully will answer the “whys “ and “whats” of recycling here in Bedford.

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