Here at Maids by Trade, we strive to be as environmentally-friendly as possible. That includes recycling! We know that it isn’t always a straightforward process though, especially when it comes to plastic recycling. Here’s an overview of recyclable plastics, what they are (and what they’ll become), as well as a compilation of resources for those looking to recycle plastic in Portland and the surrounding area.
1. PET or PETE (Polyethylene Terephthalate)
PETE is one of the easiest plastics to recycle as it’s picked up in most curbside programs. This plastic is found in:
- Bottles for water, soft drinks, mouthwash, juice, ketchup, salad dressing, vegetable oil
- Containers for food like peanut butter, jelly, pickles
- Microwaveable food trays
When recycled, this plastic is turned into textiles such as fleece, carpet, and stuffing for pillows and life jackets.
2. HDPE (High Density Polyethylene)
This is the most commonly recycled form of plastic and it can be found in:
- Milk jugs
- Bottles for bleach, detergent, household cleaners, shampoo,
- Butter and yogurt tubs
- The bags inside cereal boxes
- Some plastic bags
Many curbside programs take number 2 plastics, although some will only accept containers that have a neck. This plastic is hard-wearing and resistant to temperature extremes. HDPE is recycled into picnic tables, outdoor benches, drainage pipe, lumber, fencing, and much more.
Please be aware that, generally, you cannot recycle plastic bags through municipal programs. The plastic bags jam the equipment while being processed at the recycling center, so they are set aside and later sent to a landfill. (Most of the time, this includes other recyclables tied up in a plastic bag. Unfortunately, workers just don’t have the time to open each bag.) While you can’t recycle them as you would other plastics, these plastic bags are in demand, and many grocery store chains have in-store recycling programs that accept them. (Of course, this isn’t as much of a problem in Portland and many parts of the Pacific Northwest because of the ban on plastic bags.)
3. PVC, Vinyl
Here’s where you can expect to find PVC, or polyvinyl chloride:
- Clear food packaging and blister packs
- Cleaner, detergent, and cooking oil bottles
- Bags for bedding
- Children and pet toys
- Medical equipment (tubes, blood bags, etc.)
- Wire insulation
- Pipes, siding, window frames, fencing
This plastic is the third most common type used in the US and UK, but only 0.1% to 3% of it is recycled. This plastic is very difficult to recycle, so it is hard to find a place that will accept this material. Not only is this plastic pervasive and hard to recycle, but it also contains toxins that affect human health and its manufacture emits pollutants. Instead of being recycled, PVC is often burned in incinerators (which adds even more pollutants to the environment).
While it is difficult to recycle most PVC materials, Portland residents can at the very least recycle the plastic clamshells. Use the Portland Metro page to explore recycling options and find a drop-off site near you. For organizations nationwide accepting a wide range of vinyl plastics, there is this directory. While there are organizations out there recycling PVC, it’s best to avoid this material as much as you can due to its effects on human health and the planet.
4. LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene)
- Squeezable bottles
- Plastic bags (trash bags, produce bags at the grocery store, the bags bread or newspaper come in)
- Shrink wraps
- Dry cleaner garment bags
- Coating on the inside of paper milk cartons and beverage cups
LDPE is only sometimes accepted by curbside programs. If your local government does not offer a solution for recycling a LDPE product, then, again, look to the major grocery store chains. When recycled, LDPE can be made into trash bags, paneling, plastic lumber, floor tiles, and more.
For Portland residents, plastic film is accepted for recycling at many locations, including New Seasons Markets, but is not accepted in curbside recycling.
5. PP (Polypropylene)
You can find PP plastics in:
- Some yogurt containers
- Syrup, ketchup, and medicine bottles
- Bottle caps
- Reusable plastic containers (e.g Tupperware)
When recycled, number 5 plastics can be remade into garbage cans, plastic brooms, hairbrushes, and ice scrapers, and more. Many communities offer curbside pick up for number 5 plastics. Portland residents, use that Metro page! (Vancouver residents, you have a recycling page, too.)
6. PS (Polystyrene)
This is a versatile plastic that can be rigid or a soft foam. It’s found in:
- Packing peanuts
- Foam packaging
- CD cases
- Takeout containers
- Disposable plates and cups
Portland has a number of locations where you can drop off number 6 items. When recycled, #6 items are turned into light switch plates, egg cartons, takeout containers, and foam packaging.
- Bio-based plastics, such as those made from corn or potatoes
- 3- or 5-gallon water bottles
- Some juice and ketchup bottles
- Car parts
- Anything that does not fit into the other categories
Since this is such a broad catch-all category, many communities do not accept number 7 materials at all. Also, because this category can include a wide range of items, we won’t attempt to cover how to deal with all those items here. You’ll just have to use your local resources and do your research when it comes to recycling anything marked with a 7.
Plastic Recycling: Local Resources and Links
We mentioned several links throughout the article, but we’ve collected them here for convenience, along with a few extras.
Portland Recycles: what materials to put in what recycling bin
Portland Metro: where to drop off a wide variety of items not accepted by the curbside program
Vancouver, WA Garbage and Recycling: information about the city’s recycling services
Vinyl Recycling Directory: a list of vinyl recyclers by state with contact information