Recycling plastics really isn't as easy as 1-2-3

Maybe you can address one of my pet peeves. Why is recycling plastics so difficult? The containers have the triangle number code on the bottom, so why don't they just have bins that say numbers 1 through 5 accepted?

If the plastic isn't numbered, we don't recycle it. We can read the number fairly well, so what's the problem? Do recyclers take some No. 1's, but not others?

— Frustrated Attempting Do-Gooder, via email

We reached out to a couple of recycling experts to sort out your queries, unnamed give-a-hoot-er.

"Those numbers aren't there for the customer, they're there for the plastics recycler," Recology Waste Zero Specialist Risa Buck said.

Rogue Disposal Recycling Coordinator Denise Barnes explained that the number is a resin identification code, indicating to the recycling facility what particular polycarbonite from which the item is made.

"You might have a No. 5 plastic that is a car part," Barnes said. "We'll take your beverage bottle, but we won't take your plastic car part."

The facilities aren't equipped to accept plastic that isn't clean.

"We don't accept dirty plastics," Barnes said.

Barnes explained that the plastic recycling infrastructure isn't as developed as for other materials.

"Plastic recycling is in its infancy compared to newspaper recycling," Barnes said.

Despite the abundance of plastics, Buck said, nearby sorting facilities don't have a place to send less-common plastics, and the supply of raw material outweighs demand.

"If there's no market for it, you have to limit what you're going to take," Buck said.

Both Recology and Rogue Disposal limit plastics in their commingled recycling to clean bottles and tubs (such as margarine or yogurt containers) with no lids.

"It's so important that it's clean," Barnes said. "That dirty peanut butter jar just ends up as garbage."

For all those other plastics, Barnes announced, the next Plastic Round-Up event will be 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 16 and 17, at The Expo. Cost will be $5 per household.

"The good thing about this event is we can take any hard plastic, any soft plastic and nursery plastic as long as it's clean and there's no metal," Barnes said. "This is your opportunity to recycle all those many plastic products that are in our lives that aren't accepted by our curbside collection."

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

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