As of last week, Saint Paul residents are able to recycle a wider range of plastic products in their curbside recycling bins. This is because Eureka Recycling, Saint Paul’s recycling provider has begun accepting plastics coded with #4 and #5, in addition to the already accepted #1 and #2. Residents of other cities serviced by Eureka Recycling, such as Roseville, have also had their recycling options expanded. Some cities, such as Minneapolis, contract with a different provider and have been offering expanded plastics recycling for several years.
As a Saint Paul resident, I have mixed feelings about the new recycling guidelines. A few years ago, I was living in a Twin Cities suburb without any home recycling at all. As I collected and stored all my recyclables to eventually be hauled down to a county facility, I was struck by how much plastic I was accumulating. I took serious steps to curb my use of products that come in plastic, and when I moved to Saint Paul and was once again offered what seemed like the luxury of recycling, I continued to minimize my purchase of plastic. In the past 4 years, I have accumulated a total of six #5 plastic containers, but those represent my only #5 plastic purchases in that time period. I admit that I will be glad to place these in my recycling bin, and it’s possible I will once again give in to the temptation of a product packaged in #5 plastic.
However, I will still try my best to minimize the amount of plastic I am purchasing. Usually, I try to find products that have little to no packaging, but of course many things, like liquids and creams, have to be placed in something. In those instances, I look for glass and aluminum containers, which can be efficiently recycled into more glass and aluminum containers an infinite number of times. This is notably different than plastic bottles, which can often times can only be downcycled, meaning that they can seldom be turned into another plastic. Instead, they are made into materials like insulation, furniture, and clothes. These in turn are often not capable of being recycled, meaning the plastic will eventually end up in the landfill.
I don’t know of anyone who has been able to completely eliminate plastic containers from their lives, but I think it would be wonderful if, as a society, we transitioned away from plastic as a packaging material. I hope that people will not see the expanded plastics recycling as a justification to purchase more plastic, but rather as a way to responsibly deal with the plastic that cannot easily be avoided.
Eureka Recycling has a wealth of great information on plastics and plastics recycling at http://www.eurekarecycling.org/page.cfm?ContentID=74#plastics.