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Recycling Plastics

So Much Plastic, for Such a Long Time

The California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery’s (CalRecycle) 2003 Waste Characterization Study found that plastic film, packaging containers, durable goods, and other plastic items make up 9.5 percent, or 3.8 million tons, of the disposed waste stream in California. However, plastic is only recycled at about a 5 percent rate statewide.

The characteristics that increasingly make plastic the manufacturing and packaging material of choice, i.e. light weight, durable, less expensive, also make it a challenge to collect and recycle. Plastic materials when released into the environment can also be a visual blight and harmful to wildlife. Nor does plastics debris degrade in the environment; instead it tends to accumulate, creating long-term environmental problems.

Scientific American published a July 2009 article “Plastic Not-So-Fantastic: How the Versatile Material Harms the Environment and Human Health” that includes a compilation of recent articles identifies 32 different plastic types, each suited to particular applications. The American Chemistry Council Plastics Division is a source of information about plastics recycling and more

  • PET (polyethylene terephthalate) is a clear, tough polymer with exceptional gas and moisture barrier properties. PET’s ability to contain carbon dioxide (carbonation) makes it ideal for use in carbonated soft drink bottles.
  • HDPE (high density polyethylene) is used in milk, juice and water containers in order to take advantage of its protective water retention properties
  • Vinyl (Polyvinyl Chloride, or PVC) provides clarity, puncture resistance, and cling. As a film, vinyl can breathe just the right amount, making it ideal for packaging fresh meats that require oxygen to ensure a bright red surface while maintaining an acceptable shelf life.
  • LDPE (low density polyethylene) offers clarity and flexibility. It is used to make bottles that require extra flexibility. To take advantage of its strength and toughness in film form, it is used to produce grocery bags and garbage bags, shrink and stretch film, and coating for milk cartons.
  • PP (polypropylene) has high tensile strength, making it ideal for use in caps and lids that have to hold tightly on to threaded openings. Because of its high melting point, polypropylene can be hot-filled with products designed to cool in bottles, including ketchup and syrup. It is also used for products that need to be incubated, such as yogurt.
  • PS (polystyrene), in its crystalline form, is a colorless plastic that can be clear and hard. It can also be foamed to provide exceptional insulation properties. Foamed or expanded polystyrene (EPS) is used for products such as meat trays, egg cartons and coffee cups. EPS is also used for secondary packaging to protect appliances, electronics and other sensitive products during transport.

Making Sense of Resin Codes

The Society of Plastics Industries resin codes were issued in 1988. The codes — numbers within circling arrows — are stamped or printed on the bottom of containers, near labels, or elsewhere on plastic products.

  1. PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate): plastic single-serve water bottles; soft drink bottles; food jars
  2. HDPE (high density polyethylene): milk, juice, water bottles; detergent, cleaning products, shampoo, and cosmetic containers
  3. PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride): rigid blister packs and clam shells; flexible bags and shrink wrap
  4. LDPE (low density polyethylene): produce, bread, newspaper, dry cleaning, and garbage bags; shrink wrap and stretch film; container lids; toys; squeezable bottles
  5. PP (polypropylene): yogurt, margarine, take-out and deli containers; medicine bottles; catsup and syrup bottles; bottle caps and closures
  6. PS (polystyrene): cups, plates, bowls, cutlery, take-out clamshells, meat and poultry trays (rigid or expanded); foam packaging; compact disc cases and aspirin bottles
  7. Others may be multi-material or other than 1 through 6.

What Can I Recycle

High Desert recycling programs commonly accept #1 and #2 beverage containers, and rigid #3 through #7 containers.

Plastic carryout bags are best returned to supermarkets, and large retailer stores with a pharmacy. You should readily find a recycling container in those stores. If you can’t find the container, ask a store employee. If the store doesn’t accept bags, please call 1-888-URECYCLE.

Do NOT put plastic bags in your curbside recycling container! Switch to reusable fabric bags, which are available at supermarkets and large retailers. Ask the store about discounts for other incentives for reusing bags. For more information, go to

You can redeem plastic water, soda, beer, juice, coffee, and tea containers at local buy-back and convenience centers. You can find a local recycling center by calling 1-800-RECYCLE or searching by ZIP code at

If you have large quantities of plastics, or just want to recycle your plastics directly, CalRecycle maintains a searchable database, by location and material, of California plastics recyclers a searchable database, by location and material, of California plastics recyclers