What’s with all the Different Types of Plastics for Food Packaging?

4 different trash bins

What does the recycling stamp on food packaging mean?

There are 8 kinds of plastic used in disposable consumer products. You’ve probably noticed the rounded triangle stamped (usually) on the bottom with a number in it. This is called a resin identification code and that’s how each type is labeled. Bio-plastic, or corn plastic, is labeled as PLA. PLA can’t be recycled. While #1-7 are technically ‘recyclable’, only plastic #1 and #2 are actively sought after – the others aren’t, and few if any processors bother with them.

Differences in disposable consumer products

To make matters even more complicated, lots of recycling facilities will only process clear, white or very light colored plastics that can more easily be turned into something else. The rest goes to the landfill. And what about size? Most pieces of plastic that are 3 inches or smaller are tossed because they end up jamming conveyor belts at recycling facilities.  

And just to end on a high, wait no… very, very, very low note, here are just a few common plastic household waste items that can’t be recycled curbside: 

  • Plastic wrap like cellophane 
  • Flexible packaging like toddler fruit & veggie pouches, chip bags or candy wrappers 
  • Deodorant containers 
  • Polystyrene foam (think what your steaks are shrink wrapped on top of at the grocery store)
  • Plastic grocery store bags
  • Any sort of combination of two different materials – like a pouch mailer that has bubble wrap and paper stuck together 
  • Plant-based plastics (okay, I know I said this already but it’s truly that important to remember)

Which type of recyclable packing is best for restaurants?

It’s a good idea to understand what plastics your waste management service is prioritizing so that you can trash the trash and only send the good stuff to be processed. When people don’t know and just toss anything that appears to be plastic-ish into the recycling they are causing more work for already strained recycling center workers.  

More information and some really cool recycling center visuals can be found here

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