We often get asked why can I recycle round plastic containers like yogurt tubs but not plastic cups? They’re both round, they both have that little triangle on the bottom and maybe even the same number. Why can’t I recycle plastic cups? Honestly, this is probably one of the toughest questions we get. The answer is complex and includes several reasons. Chemistry and Manufacturing Not all plastics are created equally. The number you often see on plastics indicates the type (chemical makeup) of plastic, not whether it’s accepted in a local recycling program. How a plastic object is formed also impacts if it can be recycled. Cups can be made from plastics of various chemical makeups and using different manufacturing processes, which make it difficult to recycle them.
There must be a market for the plastic. If there’s no market demand, the plastics can’t get sold to be made into new items. Some plastics have higher market value than others. This is because they can easily and affordably be recycled into new products. Plastic bottles are one of the highest valued plastics with consistently strong markets because they can easily be recycled into many other products.
Lastly, we must be able to sort all that recycling into categories. While we’ve made recycling easier by mixing all plastics, paper and metal together in one bin, that also means it needs to get sorted apart. With the current sorting facilities in our region, it is not possible to sort more types of plastics from each other than what is currently allowed. Round containers used for dairy products, salsa, dips, etc., are relatively consistent with the type of plastic used and can be sorted from bottles in our current system.
Test your recycling knowledge! Visit www.RecycleorNot.org.