Recycling plastic has long been a guessing game and the “chasing arrow” stamped on the bottom of your strawberry container or shampoo bottle typically adds to the frustration of where it should be tossed.
U.S. landfills received more than 25 million tons of plastic in 2018, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
A reader emailed The Bee’s Utility Team searching for a list of numbers on plastics that can be recycled, noting their current tactic is to guess which plastic material is recyclable and “hope for the best.”
According to the city of Sacramento, plastic containers one through seven are recyclable material. That’s where the confusion for consumers usually begins.
Manufacturers can print the misunderstood recycling logo on nearly anything because it’s purpose isn’t to help identify a recyclable item, but rather identify what type of plastic the item is made of. To help, California banned the placement of the “chasing arrow” on items that cannot be recycled.
According to the city, “the market for recyclable items has become more complicated,” noting the answer is to reduce plastic use, reuse material and put the correct items in the recycle bin.
Here’s what type of plastics can be tossed in your blue recycle containers, according to the city:
All California Redemption Value containers (most beverages packaged in aluminum, glass, plastic and Bi-metal containers)
Shampoo bottles (and similar bottles)
Buckets, pails and crates
Make sure to empty, rinse and dry your plastic material before tossing it in the recycle bin.
WHAT PLASTIC CANNOT BE RECYCLED?
Clam shell trays
Deli food containers
The city has a “Waste Wizard” tool if you are unsure which bin your plastic or any other material belongs.
Here’s what you need to know about the plastic identification numbers stamped on the bottom of your plastic material including its name and common items, according to CalRecyle:
No. 1 | Polyethylene terephthalate
Common items: Soft drink bottles, polyester fibers, thermoformed sheet, strapping
No. 2 | High density polyethylene
Common items: Bottles, grocery bags, recycling bins, playground equipment, plastic lumber, agricultural pipe, base cups, car stops
No. 3 | Polyvinyl chloride
Common items: Non-food bottles, pipe, fencing
No. 4 | Low density polyethylene
Common items: Plastic bags, containers, dispensing bottles, wash bottles, laboratory equipment, six-pack rings, tubing
No. 5 | Polypropylene
Common items: Food containers, dishware, auto parts, industrial fibers
No. 6 | Polystyrene
Common intems: Cafeteria trays, toys, vireo cassettes and cases, desk accessories, styrofoam
No. 7 | Other
Common items: acrylic, fiberglass, nylon, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, polycarbonate and polylactic acid
Sacramento County plastic rules
The plastic recycling guidelines in Sacramento County are similar to the city’s — expect for a few things.
Unlike the city, the county doesn’t list plastic identification codes. Instead, it states empty, dry plastic food and beverage containers are recyclable and so are lids. Here are examples of what plastic can be recycled in Sacramento County, according to its website:
Plastic liter soda bottles
Plastic laundry, shampoo and conditioner bottles
Plastic milk and juice jugs
Plastic butter and yogurt containers
Plastic laundry baskets
Plastic five gallon buckets
WHAT PLASTIC CANNOT BE RECYCLED?
Padded plastic envelopes
“Even if these items have a chasing arrow image (three arrows in a shape of a triangle) they are not allowed in your curbside recycling cart,” the county states on its website.
What do you want to know about life in Sacramento? Ask our California Utility Team your top-of-mind questions in the module below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.