Plastics #1, #2, & #5

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Recycling plastics #1, #2, & #5

Why do you only accept #1,#2 and #5 plastics? Other programs take them all!

Don’t be fooled into thinking that all (or even most) of the plastic collected by those programs is actually recycled!  There are very few domestic (U.S.) markets for plastics numbered 3 through 7.  China, one of the principal foreign markets for U.S. plastics, has recently undertaken measures to stem the influx of non-recyclable and contaminated materials hitting their shores.  At least for now, “the markets for #’s 3-7 plastics have dried up!”

China’s Operation Green Fence is having a tremendous impact on the U.S. recycling industry, leaving shippers of recovered plastics and paper in particular scrambling for end markets for their product.  The initiative has made checking in-bound containers of recyclables for non-recyclable waste a top priority for Chinese custom officials looking to cut the influx of trash and contaminants from foreign sources including the U.S.  According to one major U.S. materials broker, “Markets for #3-#7 plastics have dried up. …Many processors that (now) accept #’s 1-7 will simply sort the 1’s and 2’s out of the mix and be forced to dispose of the 3-7’s as there are currently few alternatives. PET (#1) and HDPE (#2) markets remain strong but we have seen a slip in these prices as well in the last few days.”

Forcing U.S. industry to limit the production of non-marketable plastics or develop on-shore markets for the products they produce would not be a bad thing.  The bulk of post consumer plastics #3-7 collected in this country have always gone oversees, primarily to third world countries where environmental controls and worker safety standards are far inferior to those in the U.S. ( If you are interested in doing some research, the web is full of articles about oversees waterways and villages strewn with plastic “trash” and pollution, and unprotected workers-even children- attempting to melt or pelletize plastics to sell. You will find some great links at the end of this article.)  In addition,  it is widely known that plastic debris is threatening the world’s oceans, birds and wildlife. If you are interested in learning more about plastic pollution and the impact it has on our oceans – check out the link below. (We can only guess that some percentage of that plastic debris is coming from the U.S. One researcher who took samples from the Pacific gyre estimated that a million Taco Bell bags were floating in a small area of ocean.)

Unfortunately, the current trend nationwide toward “single stream” collection is making recycling a “brainless” activity for many consumers.  People who are instructed to throw “all plastics,” and everything else into one recycling bin may never realize how much of it (an estimated 30% or more) ends up in a landfill.   With single stream, even those who care about such things are discouraged from taking responsibility for their purchasing choices and may feel increasingly less of a need to hold manufacturers accountable for wasteful packaging and marketing practices.   This is certainly the story with plastics.  People who are mislead into believing that it is all getting “recycled” are likely to buy more and thereby produce more waste, all the while taking pride in their bulging recycling bin!

GJ CRI, made a commitment a long time ago to concentrate on providing material to domestic markets in an effort to generate local (USA) jobs and to insure the ethical end use of the material we collect.  To do so meant that we had to maintain a higher standard, limiting what we collect to those materials for which there are domestic markets.  This also meant educating our recycling participants and enlisting their cooperation in sorting their material to give us recyclable items.  This has required a bit more work on our part and on the part of the participants…but that work has paid off.  Not only do our participants know what can and cannot really be recycled, our program is also not impacted by this inevitable failure of questionable end markets.

GJ CRI wants to thank all those thousands of participants out there that have believed in our mission through the years and taken our educational efforts to heart.  Our materials (your recyclables!) continue to be sought out by domestic markets.  While overseas brokers contact us with requests to send our material their way, we continue to support domestic mills and manufacturers.  Keep up the good work, Grand Junction!

Related articles:

Jerry Powell. “Operation Green Fence is deeply affecting export markets.” Resource Recycling (2013): Web. (12 Apr. 2013)

Kerri Jansen. “China getting tough on contamination.” Waste & Recycling News. (2013) Web (6 May 2013)