Use Less, Recycle More: Berkeley Residents Can Now Recycle More Plastics

20130710plasticsonlyBerkeley has moved one step closer to our goal of Zero Waste by 2020! Berkeley residents can now recycle more plastic containers in their blue curbside carts. In addition to plastic bottles, the Ecology Center’s curbside recycling program will now collect clean food storage containers, dairy tubs (like yogurt), plastic cups, and trays.

There are still plastic items that should not go in to the blue curbside recycling carts like styrofoam, plastic bags or wrap, compostable plastics, utensils, straws, and coffee lids. Residents can drop off oversized plastic objects such as buckets, lawn furniture, and crates at the Berkeley Recycling Center on the corner of Gilman and 2nd Street.

Increased plastics recycling will help diminish the amount of plastic that is landfilled. However, it will not solve all the environmental and health problems associated with plastic. Plastics make up a substantial part of the municipal solid waste stream, and Americans are buying more plastic than ever. In the US, only 8 percent of plastic discards get recycled, and the plastics industry rarely uses recycled plastics in the vast majority of their product packaging.

The recycling arrows stamped on plastic products lead many people to believe that all plastic products are recyclable and being recycled, but that’s not the case. “One thing that has set Berkeley apart has been our willingness to tell it like it is. We’re not going to lead you to believe that certain plastics are being recycled when a recycling market for those items doesn’t actually exist,” says Ecology Center Executive Director Martin Bourque. “We didn’t want to collect other kinds of plastics until we could verify that they would indeed be recycled and not just landfilled, discarded, or incinerated.”

New environmental rules enforced by Chinese customs have restricted the flow of the West’s recyclables into China. Berkeley remains vigilant about only collecting plastics that have viable markets and producing clean, high quality materials for recycling.

Plastics continue to pollute our oceans and waterways, and are associated with a growing variety of health hazards. For these reasons, the Ecology Center continues to urge Berkeley residents to reduce their overall use of plastics. The Ecology Center website features two useful fact sheets to help residents adopt alternative practices: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Eliminate Plastic and Storing Fruits and Vegetables. The Ecology Center Store stocks products to get the plastic out of your kitchen, bath, and toy box, plus books such as Plastic-Free by local author Beth Terry.

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26 thoughts on “Use Less, Recycle More: Berkeley Residents Can Now Recycle More Plastics

  1. Are there specific plastic type numbers which are taking? I recall that you were previously accepting types #1 and #2 only. Has this expanded?

    • The main distinguishing aspect of the new collection program centers on the fact that the item must be a container.

      The Community Conservation Center has been working with a plastics processor that claims the individual numbers no longer matter, with a few exceptions.

      → Item must have a chasing arrows symbol.

      → It must be a clean, rigid plastic container.

      → It is not made of a compostable bioplastic.

      They will not accept

      → Plastic bags and films.
      → Block or pellet styrofoam.
      → Loose items such as utensils, non container items, etc.

      With that said, you are basically allowed to recycle all suitable rigid containers, provided they are rinsed, fit in your cart, and are not made of compostable plastic. Larger items must be dropped off at the recycling center, but they are generally recyclable provided they do not contain any toxic materials.

  2. Could you publish more specific guidelines as to what’s acceptable and what’s not? Your old criteria – #1 or 2 beverage containers – were narrow but at least it was easy to know whether something was recyclable or not. Thanks!

    • Plastic bottle caps and container lids are allowed ONLY if still attached to the original container. If they are left loose, they will be too tiny for sorters to grab and process. If they are not correctly processed, they end up as a contaminant after processing.

      So the proper way to recycle plastic containers are:
      → Empty and Rinse the container.
      → Flatten and Replace lid.
      → Place into recycling cart for collection.

  3. In the past caps and lids were not allowed for recycling. I see on your web page the new instructions: “Caps and lids are allowed if attached to containers.” Does that mean I can screw them on the containers when recycling? Or I can only recycle those that come as factory-attached?

      • I have a few questions:

        1) Should we put the lid on the bottle if the lid is metal and the bottle is glass?

        2) Should we put the lid on the bottle if the lid is plastic and the bottle is glass?

        3) Can we put canning jar lids in the recycling bin?

        Thanks for your advice,

        • All of the above are acceptable ways to recycle your lids.

          The goal is to capture as many recyclable plastics as possible. If caps are separated from their original container, they end up as loose debris that may be too small for sorting staff to manually pick and classify from a fast moving conveyor belt.

    • The green fruit baskets were specifically excluded by the processor.

      My recommendation would include asking our participating farmers market vendors if they would be interested in their reuse.

      • Plastic cups meet the new guidelines (rigid plastics #1-7, except compostable plastics), and are accepted in your recycling cart. Give them a rinse and put them in.

  4. As is almost always the case, you miss a couple of very important points. One is that almost none of these materials are actually “recycled”, they are “downcycled”, meaning milk bottles never become milk bottles, they become something like building material, playground substrate or something else. So by buying and recycling that milk bottle, you only encourage plastics industry to make more plastic. The carbon footprint of recycling/downcycling is always hidden as well. Recycling is basically bullshit.

    • That used to be the case, but there are processors now who recycle plastics, as opposed to downcycle.

      There are still other reasons to avoid buying plastic altogether, rather than recycling it. We’re doing what we can to encourage people to use less plastic, even as we’re pulling more out of the waste stream headed to a hole in the ground.

  5. the EBMUD stated in there newsletter a while back that washing recyclable containers out was unecessary for the recycling process, and it wastes water. were they only referring to glass/metal perhaps ? if plastic is not washed, does it also contaminate the process, or is it just too smelly for the workers ? thank you.

  6. I happen to not drink dairy milk or soy milk. Therefore , I end up drinking hemp milk and they package that into those Tetra Brik Paks. I know they are a “mixed” product. Is there anywhere close by that accepts them? Do they eventually decompose or are they terrible for the environment?

    • Those types of milk containers are referred to as asceptic packaging. They are made by combining plastic, paper, and metal in a way that is hard to recycle or compost. They aren’t the best choice for the environment. If you are able to find hemp milk in the more traditional type of carton like you find in the refrigerated section, they can be composted in Berkeley’s food scrap/green bin and in other municipal green bin collection programs. Thanks for your question!

  7. After reading the above questions and responses, I am still not sure if there is anything that I can do with so-called tetra containers, such as those used to package coconut milk. Must they simply be thrown into our trash cans?

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