A World Of Plastic-Type 5

Not that this is any big surprise but Type 5 plastics are mainly used for food packaging. Shocking! Polypropylene, or PP is used for countless one use products and the #5 triangle is not the easiest to find a future home for. Let’s take a closer look at PP and see what’s really going on.

These products all look familiar to us. Yogurt containers, margarine, deli meats, pre-cooked items, straws (my nemesis), pill bottles, bottle caps and “Ziploc” or “Glad” reusable containers. They can be used for thousands of things afterwords but rarely are. In lots of cases even if a bottle cap or lid does not have a symbol, it is most likely a Type 5 plastic. PP is known for its high melting point which makes it ideal for holding hot liquids that cool in the bottles. It is also great for hot food items and can be considered microwave-safe for a short time. PP can be manufactured to be flexible or rigid, hence it’s many uses.

Oddly, PP is not widely welcome at the recycling center. It is said that PP is not “mainstream” enough. Weird because bottle caps and straws are pretty numerous in beach clean ups I have joined. Since 95 to 96 percent of the bottles that are manufactured are either Type 1 or 2, Type 5 slips through the cracks. And in most cases, quite litterally… (Yes, I know it’s spelled wrong, it’s a pun.) However, PP has a similar type resin to that of Type 2 so reclaimers are starting to find ways to incorporate it into other products. This is good news.

I was told years ago that if the people continue to add such Type 5 items to their recycling bins they would have little choice but to incorporate them into their work. I found this to be true while living in San Diego. For years I put my dairy containers in the bin and one day they added them to the list. Magic! Bottle caps are being accepted more and more everyday. “During the grinding and wash process for #1 or #2 bottles, the bottle material will sink and the cap material will float,” says Judith Dunbar, the director of environmental and technical issues (plastics) for the American Chemistry Council. “It’s really a volume issue, just like anything else,” she explains. “If you don’t have a lot of volume, then it’s not going to sell.” Therefore we need to leave those bottle caps on. They do wish for them to be on loosely, but not so that they fall off and jam the machines. (I found these machines to be very interesting if you want to take a look.)

As you know, I am no expert, not a chemist, not a professional recycler, but I have a potentially great idea. Why not perfect just one type of plastic that could do all the things 1-5 are doing? This would solve lots of problems with the recycling. All the plastics could go to the same centers and become a new item. No messy system. No confusion. No separate bins. It would make it SO easy and people would be more likely to become involved. Maybe I am just a dreamer but it seems that there are different types of plastics that do the same thing.

The biggest problem continues to be that only small amounts of all plastics being recycled. And, as I may have mentioned, it is due to the confusion. If it’s not easy, it’s not going to happen. Education and convenience are the #1 and #2 goals for us all in this world of plastic. We all need to do our part for the future of our children and their planet.


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