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Plastics: What’s Recyclable and What’s Not

Recycling is where certain materials are collected and processed that you would otherwise toss in the trash. These recycled materials are then turned into new products. Recycling is beneficial for the economy, your community and the environment.

EPA data shows recycling helps to conserve natural resources and energy. For example, did you know plastic bottles were the United States’ most recycled plastic product in 2015? Even if you recycle only 10 plastic bottles, you’d be saving enough energy to provide power to a laptop for over 25 hours.

What Plastics Are Recyclable?

Here’s a list of certain plastics you should be able to recycle, but always check with your local recycling authorities to know for sure as recycling rules vary by location and municipality.

1. Beverage Bottles

Beverage bottles are the forms of materials the recycling system can handle. They’re firm and can’t be flattened out like paper. Plus they’re created from a type of plastic manufacturers can sell fairly easily for making products like:

  • Fleece
  • Clothing
  • Carpet
  • Even more plastic bottles

2. Other Types of Bottles

Bottles with caps or openings smaller than or the same size as the base are likely recyclable. Bottles used for personal care products like soap and shampoo and laundry detergent are all recyclable. If there are metal springs on the nozzle heads of spray cleaners, remove them and throw them out.

3. Plastic Clamshells

These are created from the same kind of plastic as that of beverage bottles, but not all curbside recyclers can process them. This is because the manner in which clamshells are molded impact the plastic’s structure, which makes it harder to recycle.

You may notice clamshells come with a triangle of arrows with a number inside, like many other types of plastic containers. This is the one through seven numbering system known as a resin identification code. It’s put in place for helping recyclers identify the plastic’s type of resin it’s made from. It doesn’t, however, always mean you can recycle the item.

4. Some Gift Wrap

If you like using gift wrap, check for types you can recycle or those created from recycled content. You can also use decorative boxes that don’t require wrapping to reduce waste because you can recycle these.

5. Bottle Caps

The plastic caps you find on bottles help keep things like dirt and bugs out of your beverages and help your soda stay carbonated. While they’re created with a different plastic-type than their bottles, you should put the caps back on your bottles before you recycle them.

What Plastics Aren’t Not Recyclable?

Here’s a list of certain plastics you shouldn’t recycle.

1. Plastic Wrap

Plastic wrap is used for covering meats, vegetables and cheeses. While it’s used often, you can recycle it since it’s difficult to handle at the Material Recovery Facility (MRF). This facility is where things collect from offices, residences and more through private and public recycling programs are:

  • Sorted
  • Baled
  • Sold

The film tends to wrap around the equipment, bringing the operation to a halt.

2. Plastic Grocery Bags

These are the absolute worst thing you can put in the recycling bin. You shouldn’t put any plastic grocery bags into the bin. These can become caught in the sorting equipment, and they cost recycling programs a lot of money, therefore, you shouldn’t recycle them. Instead, try custom recycled shopping plastic bags such as our laminated rPET from recycled plastic waste. See other laminated bags made from rPET, woven and more.

3. Flexible Packaging

Flexible packaging flattens out on the conveyor belt of the MRF and winds up being sorted incorrectly and combined with paper which renders the entire bale unsellable.

Flexible packaging, like potato chip bags, is constructed from different types of plastic layers and frequently are lined with aluminum. There’s no possibility of easily separating the layers and capturing the desired resin.

4. Polystyrene Foam

This is the stuff you find in egg cartons or meat packaging and is created with mostly air. It requires a special machine to remove this air and then condense the material down into a block or patty to resell. Products made of foam like this have little value since after the removal of air, there’s not a lot of material left.

Many U.S. cities have placed a ban on plastic foam. Maryland and Maine, not too long ago, passed statewide bans of food containers made of polystyrene. However, some communities have plastic foam recycling drop-off locations which can be created into picture frames and crown molding.

5. Sandwich Bags and Some Wrappers

Certain plastic bags create the same types of issues as thin plastic film for recycling machinery. These include plastic bags for newspapers, bread, cereal box liners, dry cleaning bagssandwich bags and grocery bags. But, you can return certain wrappers and bags like the ones that are wrapped around paper towels to your local grocery store to have recycled. You can’t return plastic film.

The Best Solution: Avoid Using Plastics

Although there are many types of plastics that you can now recycle, you should avoid using plastic and other packages as much as you can. Single-use packaging, particularly plastic packaging, over the last 45 years, has grown by over 10,000%.

Just recycling these products does not nullify the damage to the environment already done when the product is manufactured or the resource extracted.

When you do purchase plastics, just remember not all plastics are made equal. Some plastics are much more problematic than other plastics, both in the way they’re manufactured and used. The letters and numbers on the bottom of a plastic container indicate the resin types and are important so you know which plastics to avoid.

The best way and most environmentally preferred method of reducing waste is not creating it in the first place. Material reuse and source reduction, according to the EPA, are the most functional ways of protecting the environment, saving natural resources and saving money. Having to make a new product means more energy and materials. offers a multitude of bags to help you or your company avoid using plastic bags. Explore the most popular custom reusable grocery bag styles today.


Written and edited by (RTB). RTB is one of the original U.S grown suppliers of eco-friendly wholesale reusable and recycled promotional product bags and totes available in custom sizes.

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