Plastics: Why We Should Reduce Before Recycling
Plastics are strange materials. They come from a synthetic, or partially synthetic material made from polymers that don’t really ever go away, or biodegrade. When burned, plastics form extremely toxic chemicals, and when buried they just sit in landfills.
Unlike glass, plastic cannot be infinitely recycled. The same plastic material is generally recycled once, or twice at best, and then becomes unusable (unrecyclable). Sadly, in the end plastics are eventually sent to landfill, or worse, they end up in our oceans. This is why it is extremely important to reduce our plastics consumption altogether, and reuse and recycle what we already have to prevent further extraction of virgin materials. The process of extracting non-renewable reserves of oil and natural gas out of the ground, manufacturing these resources into plastic products, and then releasing them back into the air contributes to climate change and the surplus of CO₂in our atmosphere.
When it comes to types of plastics accepted in Recology recycling programs, we refer to rigid plastics only. This includes items like plastic bottles, plastic laundry baskets, and food containers. Thin, soft plastics (LDPE plastic), including plastic wrap and plastic bags, are not accepted in our blue bin programs. LDPE is particularly difficult to recycle because of the damage it causes to machinery in municipal recycling programs; this soft plastic gets caught in the wheels and gears and can break the machines that are running to sort bottles, cans and paper. However, many grocery stores collect clean, dry plastic bags made of LDPE and send them to recyclers who turn them into new film plastic or infrastructure like plastic lumber, parking bumpers and road signs.
Plastics, #1-7, are accepted (a few exceptions listed below).
- Plastic bottles and bottle caps (OK to leave plastic caps on)
- Plastic tubs and lids (yogurt containers)
- Plastic cups and lids, including disposable lids
- Clear clamshell food containers
- Molded packaging and bins
- Plastic buckets
- Plastic toys (SF only) as long as they do not have metal parts, batteries, circuit boards or wiring
All materials placed in the blue cart should be 80% rinsed/clean, without food or liquids.
Plastics we DO NOT accept:
- Plastic bags
- Thin plastic wrap & films
- Rubber gloves
- Snack wrappers
- Tetra Paks
- Black plastic (San Mateo County only – SF accepts)
For a more detailed list of accepted materials, please visit your local Recology service provider website: