Recycling Mythbusters: Plastic Recyclables

January 28th, 2014 | Kyle Reed

By Mythbuster Kyle Reed

Who are the Recycling Mythbusters?

We are Kyle “Reedcycler” Reed, Amanda “Jill of All Trades” Abbott and Rachel “Waste Watcher” Tholl. This term we will be introducing you to some recycling-based myths, and busting them so you don’t have to. 

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From left to right: Amanda Abbott, Rachel Tholl, and Kyle Reed.

Together we are the Recycling Mythbusters.

We don’t just tell the myths, we put them to rest.

MYTH: All plastic items are recyclable.

Last week, we introduced how the plastic resin identification code is set up, and why it shouldn’t be used to determine whether an item is a recyclable. Today, we will dig deeper and talk about why some plastic items aren’t accepted, using two common plastic items which are not accepted in local recycling as examples.



Plastic to-go containers, informally called clamshells, are one plastic item which many think are recyclable. However, these pesky items end up being nothing more than trash for a variety of reasons.

For starters, the simplest answer is that clamshells are not one of the four shapes of recyclable containers in Corvallis and OSU, which are bottles, tubs, jugs, and jars.

Clamshells, are very inconsistent with what kind of plastic they are made from. Unlike other items, such as bottles, there is little uniformity in the type of plastic used to make clamshells, which causes difficulty during collection, as there isn’t an quick and easy way to sort them. Other plastic items are separated and sorted by type of plastic, in order to make it accessible for buyers who will use it to make new products.

Most, if not all clamshells which students will see are very brittle and weak.   These plastics have little benefit economically and environmentally; essentially, the amount of energy and resources going into recycling the clamshells is far greater than that of simply creating it anew. Additionally, food contamination is another issue when it comes to clamshells, as it is difficult to tell whether or not the container has been cleaned or not.

Due to these facts, there is little or no market value for clamshells, and the items may be labeled as trash at collection facilities if suitable markets don’t exist.

Plastic Bags

plasticbagAnother item which is often the source of confusion is plastic bags. Now, I want to be clear, that these items are recyclable, but they do not belong in any of the recycling bins on campus or in curbside recycling. For the same reason that you wouldn’t put an aluminum can in the cardboard recycling, plastic bags do not go through the same processes that a plastic bottle would.

Likewise, bags often get caught up in the equipment used to sort through materials, causing facilities to frequently have to stop to remove them. This is often the cause of damages to the equipment, with some large cities spending about $1 million in repairs and replacements.

Luckily, several locations in Corvallis accept stretchy plastic film items, such as bags, as a special recyclable.


Rigid plastic items in these 4 shapes are accepted in OSU bottle and can recycle bins and in commingle curbside carts in Corvallis.

Rigid plastic items in these 4 shapes are accepted in OSU bottle and can recycle bins and in commingle curbside carts in Corvallis.

Not every plastic is created equal, thus it’s important to know where different types of plastics go to be recycled.

Plastics accepted in recycle bins on campus (labeled “Bottles and Cans” or “Containers”) are shown in the image on the right. To learn about other plastics that can be accepted when sorted out separately, visit Campus Recycling’s online recycle guide and/or the Corvallis guide linked above.

The best thing you can do, however, is to avoid using disposable products altogether. For example, if you dine on campus, opting in to the Eco2Go program will give you access to reusable to-go containers.

This post is part of our “Recycling Mythbusters” blog series, where we focus on busting common misconceptions about recycling. Tune in every week to learn more.

One Response to “Recycling Mythbusters: Plastic Recyclables”

  1. [...] where the plastic bag ban is in effect), but in the next city over plastic bags can’t be handled. Last week, we took a look at how plastic bags can get caught in the machinery at sorting [...]