4R’s Tip – Not All Plastics Will Recycle, What To Do About It

Not All Plastics Can Go In Your Recycling Bin…

And even if they do, they are not likely to get recycled. We need to recognize that the triangle doesn’t mean much. There’s a reason California is cracking down on the use of it.

There are seven numbers used in the chasing triangle they put on plastics. This is because there are so many types of plastics and they all have to be recycled differently if they get recycled at all.

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Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich on Pexels.com

Carryout Food Containers and Plastic Clamshells

A large amount of the difficult to recycle plastics come from drive-thru food or take-out containers. Here are some ways to avoid them.

When you hit a drive-thru for a quick meal none of the packagings your food comes in is recyclable.

  • Straws cannot go in recycle bins, they are too small for the sorting machines and too soft to recycle. I have reusable straws that are metal, collapse down so I can carry them anywhere, and are easy to wash. Before I got them I would wash the plastic straws and keep a collection at home. I love being able to say no to the straw on the rare occasion I hit a drive-thru now.
  • Plastic beverage cups are not easily recycled, even if they have a number on them. What a good reason to save some money and skip the combo meal. Since most people pick up food on their way home, why not keep large containers of chips or soda at home (or get a soda stream machine).

Eating out is fun but leftovers can create non-recyclable waste. Here are some of the troublemakers to avoid.

  • Plastic food containers, like clamshells, are not accepted by some recycling services. 
    • I have a few clamshell containers with the lid attached that I carry with me to bring my leftovers home. I wash them after use and toss them in my cupboard or car for next time I eat out.
    • Some clamshells are not very reusable. They’re flimsy and fall apart. Try finding reuses for them (tips on ways to reuse these coming in the future).
  • Some restaurants give you polystyrene (aka styrofoam) for leftovers. This is another form of plastic which is not recyclable, which is another good reason to carry your own container for leftovers. 
    • When I forget my own container, I have a few favorite restaurants that use paperboard containers. These are coated in a plastic film so they aren’t recyclable but they’re a lot less damaging to the planet.
  • Dark colored plastics aren’t detectable by recycling scanners, so even if they have a number on them your recycling service accepts they still won’t get recycled.

I know carrying your own container can be a hassle, but with limited ways to recycle carryout food containers, it’s one of the best solutions.

Plastic Produce Clamshells

These clear containers are made out of PET plastic (#1), but the density is not the same as plastic bottles, which is why some services don’t take them. If this is the case for you, there are places you can take them. Check the Earth911 database for a drop-off location.

Why It’s Important

Even if we put them in our bin most plastics won’t get recycled. The higher the number the less likely this happens, and the #7 literally means other plastics that don’t fit in the first six categories. The truth is the infrastructure is limited or non-existent for most types of plastics.

Most of the plastics recycling that happens is only of #1 and #2’s. The rest rarely get recycled into something else. This is why it’s important to find alternatives to using plastics. But with them all over the place this isn’t easy. If your curbside service doesn’t take them, search for a place at earth911.  If it’s a number other than a #1 or #2 work on ways to reduce buying them and reusing what you have. There are some great reuse ideas online and coming to you in one of my future blogs.

With Much Gratitude

That’s it for this week. I hope this helped. Thank you for reading these tips and subscribing. I would love to hear from you if you find anything challenging or helpful in these tips. Working together is how we’ll get this done. 

Along with a number of very hard-working people, I’m waging an all-out war. A fight for our planet. Please join me and consider supporting my efforts. I do not get paid to write this blog, so any support you can send my way would help, even a few bucks.

Pat yourself on the back for doing your part. Remember, every little bit helps. Don’t fuss if you aren’t always able to do this stuff, keep trying and don’t give up. It takes 21 days to build a habit. 

You got this!

All my best, 


jen.thilman (at) gmail.com

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