That Triangle with a number is a Recycle symbol, right?

More and more people are taking the time to recycle and that’s great, right? It can be, if you know how recycling works and what the local center can process. The reality is most of us don’t really know what can and can’t be recycled and what the symbols on our packages mean.

Let’s start with that triangle with a number in the middle. I always thought if it had that symbol it could be recycled. Wrong! This symbol is a SPI resin code that tells what kind of plastic it is and has nothing directly to do with recycling. What can you do? Call your local recycling center (or local based on where you are camping this week!) and ask what plastics they recycle. They can give you the numbers they accept. When shopping, check the SPI number and avoid buying items in containers that can’t be recycled. Better yet, see if you buy bulk with your own reusable container.

To go Container
SPI number 5 means Polypropylene. This can be difficult to recycle. A program called Preserve Gimme5 works to improve this.

What about my pizza box? Can you recyclable something that has touched food? The answer is most likely not. Materials like cardboard pizza boxes, slightly used paper towels and other paper products with food residue can’t be recycled into paper. In fact, putting these items in the paper recycling bin can contaminate any other papers and make them un-recyclable too! What can you do? Compost! Check out this FAQ from Stanford on contaminated products and what you can do with them.

Great news is that aluminum cans, and other plastic materials that have touched food can be recycled. It is a great idea to rinse these out before putting them in your bin. Why? For starters, the workers that will be separating your garbage might appreciate not having to touch old spoiled food! It’s just the next kind loving thing you can do. It will reduce nastiness and smells in your own recycle bin. It also reduces the chance that the food from your plastic container will contaminate paper products in the bin.

There is a lot to learn about recycling and many articles and blogs around this subject. Here are a few I found useful:

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