Recycling Mythbusters: The Recycling Symbol

January 21st, 2014 | Kyle Reed

By Mythbuster Kyle Reed

About this Series

No one wants to be told that what they are doing – and what they have always done – is wrong. Yet most who are recycling-savvy have experienced this in one form or another. When it comes down to it, recycling can at times be complex. That’s why, for the next seven weeks, we will be introducing you to some recycling-based myths, and busting them so you don’t have to.

Mythbusters Group

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: A plastic item is recyclable, because it has the recycling symbol on it.

When informing others that what they are recycling isn’t actually accepted, one of the most common responses is, “But it has the recycling symbol on it.” We most commonly hear this about plastic items. While many plastics do have a symbol imprinted on them that looks like a recycling symbol, that symbol does not actually indicate that the material is accepted in the recycling system.

The plastic codes and what they correspond to. Click to view larger.

The plastic codes and what they correspond to. Click to view larger.

Then why, you might ask, would they include the recycling symbol on an item that wasn’t actually recyclable? For plastics, we must travel back to 1988 – eighteen years after the recycling symbol was created. It was then that the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) created what is known as the resin identification code. The code, which is featured on every plastic product, is used to differentiate between the different polymers of plastic.

While this code does indicate the type of plastic used in the creation of the object, it does not tell how hard it is, nor the shape and consistency of it. For example, the same type of plastic may be used in both plastic bags and bottles.

Likewise, recycling facilities do not look at the resin code when accepting items. Instead, they look at the type of item, as some items are more consistent in the material used than others. Plastic bottles, for example, are more reliably one plastic-type across brands than clamshells, which can be made up of differing plastics depending on where it is from.

Because of these points, it is best to learn what you can recycle in your area. On-campus residents may view the OSU recycle guide to learn what is accepted on campus. For those living off-campus, you can visit this guide to see what is accepted curbside.

Next week, we’ll talk more about why certain kinds of plastic can be recycled, while others cannot.

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.

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