30 days of going green: the seven kinds of recyclable plastics

I am a little over halfway through my 30 days of going green and it is time for some updates. Balancing waste-free living, composting, and green transportation has been tough. However, the more I make myself aware of how much I waste, the less wasteful I want to be. It can be difficult, but only in the beginning. First of all, my compost is looking good. There are some flies gathering around it, but the more worms that grow, the less flies should stay. Lucky for me, I'm starting to find compositors all over the world for tips and tricks. The other day, my friend in New York sent me a picture of the compost bin on his balcony. He is the one who taught me the trick about the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio I explained on my blog. Remember to check it out at thecorsaironline.com.

As for waste-free living, once I started finding things easily recyclable and reusable, it was a lot easier for me to live simply. Lately I've been researching proper ways to recycle, and it seems the most popular and complex item to recycle is plastic. To get some resourceful information, I called up Adam Holt, manager of the Santa Monica Recycling Center on Delaware Ave. Holt assured me that his particular recycling center takes all seven types of plastic.

Yes, there are seven types of plastic and this is where things get complicated. Recently, recycling facilities have stepped up their game. Most types of plastics can be recycled curbside, depending on the recycling center. Plastic numbers three, six and sometimes seven are the only types that are unacceptable for curbside drop off due to chemicals or toxins. These are the types that should be taken directly to the recycling center. Lucky for Santa Monica residents, the Santa Monica Recycling Center has a 24-hour drop off station. Only plastic bags, which can be recycled at any local grocery store, and styrofoam cups can never be put in the curbside recycle bins.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC), an industry trade group, helped me understand the different types of plastic with a chart on its Web site.

Plastic 01 is called Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), nicknamed Polyester. We mostly see this type of plastic in beverage bottles like soda and water, and some food containers like in the main campus cafeteria.

Holt settled a common misconception that I had believed before about the caps on water bottles. I was under the impression that recycling centers need you to remove the caps from your plastic bottles because they were made out of a different type of plastic they couldn't use.

"Those days are over, technology has really caught up to us," Holt assured me. Today plastic manufacturers, like the ACC, have started making most plastic beverage bottle caps out of the same plastic as the bottle, and if not, the center can still recycle them after sorting the material.

Plastic 02 is called High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) and is mainly used in bottles for non-food items like shampoo, conditioner, laundry detergents and even recycling bins. They can also be used for foods with a short shelf life, like milk.

The first and second types of plastic are the most commonly recycled, according to Holt.

Plastic 03-07 are the less commonly seen ones in the recycling center. Plastic 03 is PVC or Vinyl, used for plastic binders or tamper-resistant seals. Plastic 04, Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) has "excellent resistance to acids, bases and vegetable oils," says the ACC, so it is used for frozen food bags, breads and fresh produce.

Plastic 05 Polypropylene (PP) is what was commonly used for bottle caps and is now mainly used for medicine bottles, yogurt containers and bottles of ketchup. Plastic 06, Polystryrene (PS), is used for eggshells and "food service items." Plastic 07 is mysteriously labeled "other," meaning the item is "made with a resin other than the six listed…or is made of more than one," according to the ACC chart.

This chart can be found with other helpful information on Earth911.com. They have plenty of articles about how to recycle all your hazardous household products. They also have a Recycling Center locator, as well as information on "Business Solutions."

The Santa Monica Recycling Center will be handing out In N' Out gift cards this Thursday, April 22 in honor of Earth Day. Bring your recycling by and get a burger while you're at it.