Plastic Recycling 101: A Guide For Curious Consumers

All those water bottles your family goes through in a week, the plastic food containers you usually toss out, and even the milk jug are all examples of common household consumer items that tend to land in the trash. However, plastics are highly recyclable materials, and they really do not have to go to a landfill at all. If you are fairly new to deciding it is time for you and the members in your household to be kinder to the environment, you likely have a few questions about recycling plastic. Here are a few of those questions and the answers you should know to help you get started. 

What types of plastic can actually be recycled?

Pretty much every type of household plastic can be recycled, right down to the plastic wrappers you take off of a carton of frozen food. If you take a look at the bottom of most plastic containers, you will find a recycling logo that has a number inside. This number is a direct reference to what type of plastic it is that the container is made out of. A few examples include:

  • A number one for PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate), which are things like soda bottles and cooking oil containers
  • A number two for HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene), which could be a laundry detergent bottle or milk jug
  • A number three for PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride), which could be something like bubble wrap or plastic food wrap 

How exactly are plastics recycled?

Once you have taken plastics to a recycling center, they go through a process to be reformulated back into a usable product. The plastic is first sorted by type, then it is shredded down into smaller bits, and then melted. From the melted plastic, the recycling center will create solid little pellets that can be redistributed to manufacturers and turned into new products. 

Can you get money for recycling plastic materials?

Some scrap plastic recycling centers do actually pay for recyclable plastic materials, but this can depend on what programs are available where you live. For example, it is not uncommon for there to be a payment for specific types of plastic, like soda bottles. In the state of California, according to The Penny Hoarder, you can get five cents for every plastic bottle you recycle that is under 24-ounces in size, and you may be able to get even more for larger plastic containers or pieces.