Decoding Plastic Recycling: Difficult PVC, PP and Mystery Other

Posted on Mar 14 2012 - 1:51pm by Tim Eyre

My household, like many others, has its share of yogurt and other dairy containers relaxing in the refrigerator. Yet, my wife’s yogurt habit doesn’t mean the nearby landfill will be swamped with plastic containers of yesteryear. Yogurt containers can be more difficult to recycle than the easygoing plastics PETE and HDPE, which we discussed recently in this series on plastic recycling. Yet, just because something isn’t easy doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, right?

While plastics identified with the numbers one (PETE) and two (HDPE) are commonly recycled, a few of the higher numbers in the plastic gang are a bit more difficult, or moody. Temperamental or not, we’re going to talk about PVC, PP and Other (composites of different plastics).

The number five inside the recycling symbol identifies polypropylene, PP. (We’ll get to PVC in just a minute.) Lots of dairy containers are made from PP, including packaging for sour cream, tub butter and cottage cheese, as well as yogurt. Other items made from PP include Brita water filters, take-out containers, syrup bottles and plastic bottle tops. 

While PP isn’t as widely accepted at recycling centers as PETE and HDPE, all hope isn’t lost. More cities are beginning to offer recycling for PP, but if your city isn’t one of them, there’s another solution. Preserve, a company that makes toothbrushes and other items from recycled materials, also wants your plastic! Preserve’s Gimme 5 program allows you to recycle any clean container or item marked with the number five, including Brita filters. Preserve uses your plastic to make new stuff like handles for toothbrushes and razors, plus cutting boards and colanders!

Gimme 5 receptacles are available inside some Whole Foods Market stores, as well as some cooperative markets and stores.  In all, there are more than 200 Gimme 5 locations nationwide. If you’re on the go, there’s even a Gimme 5 app to help you find a participating location.

So, now that you’ll never eye a yogurt container the same way again, how about another difficult plastic: PVC? While the number three inside the recycling symbol would identify polyvinyl chloride, PVC, it’s not often you’ll see it promoted for recycling.

PVC is used in shower curtains, building materials and pipes, as well as vinyl dashboards. You’d know it by its new-car smell. Unfortunately, PVC isn’t accepted at many recycling centers. It’s downright difficult to recycle, but new technology is changing the reality of PVC recycling. VinyLoop® by SOLVAY Plastics in Italy is a unique recycling process that separates the PVC compound from other materials, ultimately creating recycled PVC. However, right now it may still be difficult to find a location in your community to drop off your PVC for recycling. Earth911 provides more information on recyclers of vinyl flooring, vinyl-backed carpet, vinyl billboards and vinyl medical supplies.

Now, for the mysterious Other, identified by a number seven inside the recycling symbol. Number seven plastic, used in food containers and oven bags, has no official name. It’s made up of several layers of different plastics, and may even include biodegradable plant-based materials. In short, number seven is the catchall category of plastic recycling. It isn’t widely accepted for recycling, but more centers are taking it each year. I don’t think you should give up on number seven recycling. Its time may come.

We’ll finish up this series on plastic recycling by taking a look at some helpful things  you may use often: plastic bags, Styrofoam packing “peanuts” and more. In the mean time, may all your yogurt cups find themselves happily recycled!

Tim Eyre