2013-02-06 / Front Page

All Plastics Are Not The Same

By Greg Reineke



While many Fulton County residents are using the drop-off recycling bins in the county, the common belief that “plastic is plastic” is resulting in increasing contamination rates of the recyclable material. Only very specific plastics are accepted by the recycling program. The only plastic material that is accepted in the Fulton County single-stream recycling bins are those plastics that have the shape of a bottle or jug, in other words, the neck is narrower than the base. Even with these there are some restrictions. If those containers once held solvents, oils or chemicals they are not acceptable and are considered trash.

Local recycling citizens often point out that most plastic products are imprinted with a small number enclosed by the “chasing arrow” symbol, which leads them to believe that the product is recyclable. Unfortunately, this is not the case. That symbol on plastic containers is simply a “resin code” and does not mean that the container is recyclable. The number inside the arrow signifies the main chemical compound (resin) used to make that plastic container. As the Society of the Plastics Industry points out: “The code was not intended to be – nor was it ever promoted as – a guarantee to consumers that a given item bearing the code will be accepted for recycling in their community.”

To make things even more confusing, the same code might appear on two different containers, and only one of those containers might be accepted for recycling. Although there are only seven resin codes, there are actually thousands of different types of plastic. Different combinations of dyes and additives can be added to the basic resin to produce a desired color, shape and texture in the final product. These variations in the manufacturing process lead to different melting points and other properties within the same resin code. To be made into another product (recycled), plastic must be carefully sorted by type. Combining different types of plastic renders it useless for manufacturing. For instance, a #1 bottle cannot be melted/mixed with a #1 tub or tray – the properties of the two plastics are too different and the resulting mix is unusable.

The bottom line is that only a few kinds of plastics have the supply and market conditions that make it feasible to recycle them. In this region, those plastics are ones in the shape of a bottle or jug. The other plastics do not have markets and therefore are not being accepted for recycling. When mixed with plastics that are recyclable, they often contaminate the whole mix and make it difficult to recycle any of it!

The recyclable materials collected in Fulton County are sorted and marketed by Penn Waste in York, Pa. Penn Waste is clear that it does not accept the following plastics:

No plastic cups, tubs and trays

No Tupperware or disposable plastic containers

No plastic bags of any sort (no garbage bags, no grocery bags, no snack food bags, no ziplock bags, etc)

No plastic tableware

No plastic wrap of any kind

No Styrofoam

No plastic egg cartons

No containers that held solvents, oil and/or chemicals

The only acceptable plastics are those that look like a bottle or jug – i.e., the neck is narrower than the base.

Anyone having any questions or concerns about the recycling program, please contact county recycling coordinator Greg Reineke at 717-294-6423 or gregfccd@ pa.net.

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