Can you limit the usage of various plastic and recycle more?

Hello readers! I am so glad to see you back on the blog today or welcome if you are new here. I share content related to simple and conscious living as I navigate this new lifestyle. This week I noticed how much plastic entered our house with the things we purchase every week and all the plastic already in our house. A great thing I love about my boyfriend is his knowledge of chemical (he is a chemical engineer). It is so helpful to have him around to know what can be recycled, things that are safe to use or things to avoid. Since not everyone has that resource available, I wanted to share some information everyone should know and where you can get more info. I hope you will find this helpful and share on your social media.

Types of plastics

In short, there are 2 main types or categories of plastics: thermoset or thermosetting plastics and thermoplastics. The first type, thermoset, is hard and durable, can be used for auto parts, aircrafts parts and tires. This type of plastic is cooled and hardened which means it retains it shape but cannot return to its original form. Polyurethanes, polyesters, and certain type of resins can count of thermoset plastics. The second type, thermoplastics, is less rigid and can soften with heat as well as return to its original form. It is easily molded and extruded into films, fibers and packaging. All poly can be considered thermoplastics; e.g. polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), etc. (1) There are other variations of plastics but for simplicity, I will limit this post with those 2 previously mentioned.

Plastic packaging

When we order online, most things will come in cardboard and plastic wrapping. It is almost inevitable and we don’t notice anymore. At our house, this is one of the main source of plastic and comes from grocery stores, online purchases and in store purchases. To limit plastic packaging, we try to bulk order online and have it delivered in one cardboard box with less plastic or even opt for the eco-friendly packaging whenever available (brands are starting to offer it more often). Our base line is “we refuse whenever possible on what we control”. We use fabric bags for shopping at the grocery store or any stores. I also purchased some produce bag to avoid the plastic store ones and we try to buy in bulk with glass jars when we can.

Plastic containers

I am talking about the containers you use for lunches and leftovers. I will be honest, we have a lot of them in our cupboards and use them daily for lunches and snack at work. We are slowly replacing the broken or very dirty/old containers with glass ones. Not all plastic containers are bad for you (BPA), especially if you do not use them in the microwave (that is a whole other issue). I prefer to use what I currently have, slowly replace when needed and make sure we don’t waste food then going to the crazy and throwing away everything plastic, going to the store to buy all glass containers. To me, this does not make any sense and is wasteful.

We could also talk about the plastic containers from the grocery store for some produce, milk, yogourt, etc. These are hard to avoid while shopping, unless you have a bulk store near you and lots of glass containers. One thing you can do, and we will discuss it next, is to look for recycle plastics over non-recyclable plastics.

What can be recycled

Sadly, not every plastic can be recycled and the percentage of plastic recycled is limited because of mixing of packaging materials by manufacturers and contaminants. In the USA, post-consumer plastic waste for 2008 was estimated at 33.6 million tons, of which was as follows:

  • 2.2 million tons were recycled (6.5%);
  • 2.6 million tons were burned for energy (8%); and
  • 28.9 million tons were discarded in landfills (86%).

As much as we would like to thing recycling plastic is great and everything can be reused, it is not the case and cities do what they can but there are lots that cannot be reused.

Process

” When different types of plastics are melted together, they tend to phase-separate, like oil and water, and set in these layers. The phase boundaries cause structural weakness in the resulting material, meaning that polymer blends are useful in only limited applications. The two most widely manufactured plastics, polypropylene and polyethylene, behave this way, which limits their utility for recycling. Recently, the use of block copolymers as “molecular stitches”[3] or “macromolecular welding flux” has been proposed[4] to overcome the difficulties associated with phase separation during recycling.[5](2)

Recycling codes

You might know the simple for recycling as it is widely used in green or black color. It is 4 arrows rotating clockwise to form a triangle. They usually have a number in the middle to indicate what it is made of. The number broadly refers to the type of plastic used in the product, by chronological order of when that plastic became recyclable:

  • “1” signifies that the product is made out of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) (beverage bottles, cups, other packaging, etc.)
  • “2” signifies high-density polyethylene (HDPE) (bottles, cups, milk jugs, etc.)
  • “3” signifies polyvinyl chloride (PVC) (pipes, siding, flooring, etc.)
  • “4” signifies low-density polyethylene (LDPE) (plastic bags, six-pack rings, tubing, etc.)
  • “5” signifies polypropylene (PP) (auto parts, industrial fibres, food containers, etc.)
  • “6” signifies polystyrene (PS) (plastic utensils, Styrofoam, cafeteria trays, etc.)
  • “7” signifies other plastics, such as acrylic, nylon, polycarbonate and polylactic acid (PLA). (3)

To help with visualization, I copied part of the chart below which is available on Wikipedia and can be found under the recycling code page (also with the link here). I also left all the links originally in the table.

List of resin identification codes (RIC) and codes defined by the European Commission

Symbol Code[3] Description Examples
Plastics (see resin identification code[4][5]
Plastic-recyc-01.svg[a] #1 PET(E) Polyethylene terephthalate Polyester fiberssoft drink bottleswater bottlesfood containers (also see plastic bottles)
Plastic-recyc-02.svg[a] #2 PEHD or HDPE High-density polyethylene Plastic milk containersplastic bagsbottle capstrash cansoil cansplastic lumber
Plastic-recyc-03.svg[a] #3 PVC Polyvinyl chloride Window framesbottles for chemicalsflooringplumbing pipes
Plastic-recyc-04.svg[a] #4 PELD or LDPE Low-density polyethylene Plastic bagsZiploc bagsbucketssqueeze bottlesplastic tubeschopping boards
Plastic-recyc-05.svg[a] #5 PP Polypropylene Flower potsbumpers, car interior trim, industrial fibers, carry-out beverage cups, microwavable food containers
Plastic-recyc-06.svg[a] #6 PS Polystyrene Toysvideo cassettesashtrays, trunks, beverage/food coolers, beer cups, wine and champagne cups, carry-out food containersStyrofoam
Plastic-recyc-07.svg[a] #7 O (OTHER) All other plastics Polycarbonate (PC)polyamide (PA)styrene acrylonitrile (SAN)acrylic plastics/polyacrylonitrile (PAN)bioplastics
Plastic-recyc-abs.svg #ABS[citation needed] Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene Monitor/TV cases, coffee makers, cell phonescalculators, most computer plastic, Lego bricks, most FFF 3D printed parts that are not bioplastic such as PLA
Polyamide Resin Code.tiff PA[citation needed] Polyamide Nylon like toothbrush bristles, socks, stockings, ect
Batteries (see also battery recycling)
Recycle-8.png #8 Lead[citation needed] Lead–acid battery Car batteries
Recycle-9.png #9 Alkaline Alkaline battery TV Remote batteries, torch batteries
#10 NiCD Nickel–cadmium battery Older batteries
Recyc-11.svg #11 NiMH Nickel–metal hydride battery
Recycle-12.png #12 Li Lithium battery Cell phone batteries, computer batteries, camera batteries
Recycle-13.png #13 SO(Z) Silver-oxide battery
#14 CZ Zinc–carbon battery Flashlight batteries
Paper [5]
Recycling-Code-20.svg #20 PAP Corrugated fiberboard (cardboard) Cardboard boxes
Recycling-Code-21.svg #21 PAP Non-corrugated fiberboard (paperboard) Cereal and snack boxes
Recycling-Code-22.svg #22 PAP Paper Newspaperbooksmagazineswrapping paperwallpaper, paper bags, paper straws
Metals
Recycling-Code-40.svg #40 FE Steel Food cansfrying pansmuffin tinscutlerypaper clips
41 ALU Recycling Code.svg
41-ALU
#41 ALU Aluminium Soft drink cansdeodorant cans, cooking pots, disposable food containersaluminium foilheat sinks
Biomatter/Organic material
Recycling-Code-50.svg #50 FOR Wood Furniturechopping boardsbroomspencilscocktail stickswooden spoons
Recycling-Code-51.svg #51 FOR Cork Bottle stoppers, place mats, construction material
Recycling-Code-60.svg #60 COT Cotton Towelst-shirtscotton buds/swabs, cotton pads
Recycling-Code-61.svg #61 TEX Jute Clothing
#62-69 TEX Other Textiles
Glass
Recycling-Code-70.svg #70 GL Clear Glass jars, bulbs
Recycling-Code-71.svg #71 GL Green Glass wine glass
Recycling-Code-72.svg #72 GL Brown Glass
No73Dark Sort Glass Recycling Logo.png #73 GL Dark Sort Glass
No74 GLS Light Sort Glass Recycling Logo.png #74 GL Light Sort Glass
No75 GLS Light Leaded Glass Recycling Logo.png #75 GL Light Leaded Glass Televisions, high-end electronics display glass like in calculators
Recycle-76.png #76 GL Leaded Glass Older televisionsash trays, older beverage holders
Recycle-77.png #77 GL Copper Mixed/Copper Backed Glass ElectronicsLCD display heads, clockswatches
Recycle-78.png #78 GL Silver Mixed/Silver Backed Glass Mirrors, formal table settings
Recycling-Code-79.svg #79 GL Gold Mixed/Gold Backed Glass Computer glass, formal table settings

What to avoid

My recommendation would be to avoid any dangerous plastic and all that cannot be recycled or reused but I understand that would be in an ideal world. I will leave this up to you and what you think is best for your family. Hopefully with the information about and you own research, you are a little more informed of the various types of plastics, their usage and the recyclable potential. Instead of telling you what to avoid, I will share below some alternatives to commonly used plastics.

How to replace plastic things in your daily life

Plastic wrap

This was a staple in my house growing up. I admit that we still have some in our house but I plan to replace it with beeswax food wrap (Amazon link). I have seen these everywhere and comments seems to be largely positive. I already have some silicone covers for bowls and containers but I would like to add options and flexibility with those food wraps.

Parchment paper

It has been hard to replace this in our household because the silicone we used kept a soapy taste. We still use it from time to time to roast vegetable but have also been using parchment paper for cooking meat.

Ziploc bags

This is on my list to replace slowly because I find the price for reusable silicone bags to be between $8-15 per bags. Silicone bags can be found online but I would recommend Stasher bags because they have the best reviews. I like that they can go to the dishwasher and do not stain.

Baking cups

I rarely use them anymore and have replaced paper cups with silicone. Just like the silicone baking sheet, you have to be very careful when you wash them or they will keep a soapy taste. Another way to avoid paper cups would be to use your metal pan with oil (butter, olive, canola, coconut), depending on what temperature you bake at because various oils have a different burning point.

Vegetable bags

While at the store, you can use mesh bags or fabric bags for your produce instead of the provided plastic bags. You can use what you already have or you can purchase a set of 2-4 produce bags.

Plastic glasses or cups and utensils

When we have a large group over, it is tempting to use plastic cups and utensils but they are a one type use while taking centuries to degrade. Instead, use your normal glasses and utensils or use bamboo (or any biodegradable option available near you).

Plastic water bottles

This is a big one. Invest a few dollars in a good reusable water bottle and reuse it while washing it every few days. You can now find them in glass, metal or safe plastic with fun colours and design. If you do not like the test of you municipal water, a great option would be Brita water bottles or a Brita filter and regular reusable water bottles.

In conclusion, we are able to limit the use of plastic in our life but it does require a constant effort and awareness to make it happen. I hope this post was helpful to you and that you will share on social media. I do not pretend to know it all so if you have more information you would like to share, please comment below or message me. I am curious to see if you already avoid plastic as much as possible or if you are like me with half way there. I hope to see you back on the blog and don’t forget to subscribe to get notified when I post new content. In the meantime, you can follow me on social media (links are above). I wish you a great week!

References

(1) How stuff works

(2) Wikipedia and plastic recycling

(3) recycling codes and table

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