April 22, 2018 – Earth Day 2018. This year’s campaign is to end plastic pollution. One way to take part in this campaign is to take advantage of the recycling opportunities in your community.


The first man-made plastic, which is now known as celluloid, was unveiled in 1862. The first synthetic polymer was made in 1907, and the term “plastic” was used to describe these materials beginning in 1909.[1] In the past 100 years, 6.9 billion tons of plastic waste has been generated. Nine percent of this waste has been recycled and 12 percent has been incinerated. This leaves 79 percent of the plastic waste (~5.5 billon tons) in landfills and the environment.[2] This is enough waste to bury Manhattan under more than two miles of trash.[3] This also equates to roughly 67 billion people. In 2016, the world population was 7.4 billion people.

If the production and waste of plastic continues at this rate, by 2050, the amount of plastic waste in landfills and the environment is estimated to more than double to 13.2 billion tons.[4]

While we may not think plastic waste negatively affects us because we’re not directly impacted, plastic waste has a huge effect on other animals, such as birds and marine life. For example, sea turtles mistake plastic bags for jelly fish and can either become trapped in the plastic debris or starve because their stomachs fill with indigestible plastic. Additionally, animals can eat plastic debris and the plastic is then passed on to whichever animal or human consumes it.[5]

For example, sea turtles mistake plastic bags for jelly fish and can either become trapped in the plastic debris or starve because their stomachs fill with indigestible plastic.

Further, microplastics are plastics that have been broken down due to water, sun, or other elements, and these plastics are now everywhere, including our drinking water, seafood, soil, and food we eat. If these small plastics enter the bloodstream, they will never be processed out. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is currently studying the cycle, movement, and effects of microplastics in the environment. Several countries are in the process of passing legislation to limit or ban the use of microbeads. In 2015, the U.S. prohibited the manufacture or introduction into interstate commerce of a rinse-off cosmetic that contains intentionally-added plastic microbeads under the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015.[6]

Plastic Types

There are two main types of plastics, based on processing: thermoset and thermoplastic. Thermoset is a polymer that solidifies when heated or cured. Thermosets cannot be softened or revert back to the original form. Examples include polyurethanes, unsaturated polyesters, epoxies, and phenol formaldehyde. Phenol formaldehyde is used in electrical appliances and electrical circuit boards and switches, which is one reason e-waste must be disposed of at specialized facilities.[7]

Thermoplastics, on the other hand, are held together by weak forces that soften when exposed to heat and return to the original condition when cooled to room temperature. Examples include polyethylene, polypropylene, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Polyethylene is used in packaging, milk and water bottles, and packaging film.[8]

Between these two types of plastics, there are seven categories, which correlate with the number found on many containers, known as Resin Codes. The seven plastic packaging resins and product applications are:[9]

Resin Code

Product Applications

1 – Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET, PETE)

  • Plastic Bottles: Water, Juice, Sports Drink, Mouthwash
  • Food Jars
  • Microwavable food trays

2 – High Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

  • Bottles: Milk, Juice, Cosmetics, Shampoo, Detergent, Household cleaners
  • Grocery and retail bags
  • Cereal box liners
  • Reusable shipping containers

3 – Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC, Vinyl)

  • Rigid packaging: Blister packs, Clamshells
  • Flexible packaging: Shrink wrap, Deli and meat wrap

4 – Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE)

  • Bags: Dry cleaning, newspapers, Bread, Frozen food, Fresh produce, Garbage bags
  • Shrink wrap and stretch film
  • Coatings for cartons and beverage cups
  • Squeezable bottles

5 – Polypropylene (PP)

  • Containers: Yogurt, Margarine, Deli food
  • Medicine bottles
  • Bottle caps

6 – Polystyrene (PS)

  • Food service items: Cups, Plates, Bowls, Cutlery
  • Protective foam packaging
  • Packing peanuts
  • CD Cases and aspirin bottles

7 – Other (Package is made with resin other than the 6 listed or with more than one)

  • Three- to five-gallon reusable water bottles, Citrus juice bottles
  • Oven-baking bags


This code system was developed to meet recyclers’ needs while providing manufacturers a consistent, uniform system. Many recycling programs use these codes to have recyclables separated or only accept certain resin codes.[10]


Ways We Can All Help

No matter where you live or what the recycling procedures are in your community, we can all help reduce plastic waste. One option is to reduce the amount of plastic you personally consume.  This can be tricky because much of the food and products we purchase are in plastic packaging. By being conscious of what you’re purchasing or bringing reusable containers and purchasing from the bulk section, we can all reduce the amount of packaging plastic we’re buying. It is also important to think about the daily items you use that may be plastic, such as plastic cups, silverware, and plates. This can all be avoided by purchasing reusable items.

The Earth Day Network provides two questions to consider when making a purchase:

  1. Do I need it?
  2. Can I use something else?

For example, if you’re leaving your house and know you’ll inevitably need a bottle of water, bring a reusable water bottle with you rather than purchasing one. If you go to a restaurant, do you need the plastic straw to drink your beverage? When you go to the grocery store, is there a reusable bag you can bring rather than using the plastic bag offered by the store?

What to Recycle at Special Facilities?

Some plastics, such as plastic bags, films, and wraps cannot be sent to typical recycling centers. However, they can still be recycled! Many grocery stores have a drop off area where these items can be taken. These items must still be clean and dry. Drop off locations vary in what they will accept, so it is best to check with your local store. [https://www.plasticfilmrecycling.org/recycling-bags-and-wraps/find-drop-....

Examples of what may and may not be recycled include:

Items that MAY be recycled

Items that MAY NOT be recycled

Product overwrap

Degradable/compostable bags or film packaging

Newspaper bags

Pre-washed salad mix bags

Bread bags

Frozen food bags

Dry cleaning bags

Candy bar wrappers

Air pillows used for shipping

Chip bags

Case wrap

Six-pack rings

Zip-top food storage bags


Shopping bags



Although the number of harmful plastics that are impacting the world today is growing, we can do our part to reduce plastic waste and improve the state of the world. You have the power to reduce the amount of plastic you personally use and recycle. Remember, there are different recycling procedures pertaining to the seven different categories of harmful plastics. In honor of Earth Month, we encourage you to take this opportunity to learn more about the different ways to recycle the various forms of plastic and reduce your plastic waste.

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