This article was originally published in Teton Valley News on April 5, 2012.
Plastics recycling has arrived in Teton Valley! The Recycling Center at the Transfer Station in Driggs now accepts #1 and #2 plastic bottles, which they will bale and sell to a plastics recycler. Residents and visitors may drop off their recycling at the Transfer Station during operating hours, or they may choose curbside pickup through RAD recycling. Recycling plastic reduces the amount of waste going to the landfill, but it also raises a lot of questions. Why can we only recycle bottles, and why only #1 and #2 plastics? Do we have to remove the caps? What happens to the plastic that is recycled?
A bottle is defined as any container whose neck is narrower than its body. Milk jugs are recyclable; yogurt containers are not. #1 plastics, also known as PET or PETE, are common in soft drink and water bottles, as well as salad dressing and vegetable oil containers. #2 plastics, or HDPE, are frequently used in milk jugs, juice bottles, detergent containers and shampoo bottles. Plastic grocery bags are not accepted at the Recycling Center, but are collected at Broulim’s for recycling. About 95% of all plastic bottles are #1 or #2 plastic. Check the number inside the triangle on the bottom of the bottle to be sure.
Unlike glass and aluminum, which can be melted and recycled into similar products indefinitely, a plastic bottle cannot be recycled into another plastic bottle. Rather, it is “downcycled” into an end product that is often completely different from its parent product. Most products made from recycled plastic are not recyclable themselves. #1 and #2 plastics are recyclable because there are markets for the end products. #3 thru #7 plastics are made from different processes, and have more dyes, fillers and other additives. This makes it much harder to recycle them.
Even some #1 and #2 plastics are made with different processes and additives, and cannot be mixed in the recycling process. This is why #1 food tubs and trays are not recyclable with #1 bottles, and #2 plastic bags cannot be recycled with #2 bottles. Bottle caps are also made with a different process and contaminate the bale when left on bottles. Rinsing bottles before recycling reduces odor, keeps flies and vermin away from the Recycling Center, and makes life more pleasant for Transfer Station employees. Please rinse your bottles and remove the caps before recycling.
The market for plastics changes frequently, and the exact endpoint of Teton County’s plastic bottles won’t be known for sure until they have a truckload ready to ship. In general, #1 plastics are made into polar fleece, carpet fiber, tote bags, furniture, sleeping bags and jackets. #2 plastics tend to be recycled into lumber, benches, picnic tables, fencing, floor tile, trash receptacles and pens.
According to Corporate Accountability International’s 2010 report, more than four billion pounds of PET plastic ends up in landfills or as litter each year. Recycling helps reduce county waste disposal costs while keeping plastic out of our local waterways and roadsides.
– This article first appeared in Teton Valley News on April 5, 2012. It has been reprinted here with permission. Tanya Anderson is the author of the column “Thinking Outside of the Trash Can”, which is published in the Teton Valley News the first Thursday of each month.