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How to properly recycle your plastic


Make sure to recycle properly.

Alina Bradford / CNET

This story is part of Road trip 2020, CNET̵

7;s series on how we’re preparing now for what might come.

Recycling is an excellent way to help the environment this Earth Day 2021 – if done correctly. Just throwing all your plastic in the trash is not the right choice. Instead, you need to know which plastics are recyclable and which ones should be thrown in the trash. But once you learn these important details, you help reduce waste.

Plastic that is not recycled is dumped in landfills, incinerated or ends up in the oceans. Burning plastics produces carbon dioxide, which is responsible for the overall energy imbalance that causes Earth’s temperature to rise, according to NOAA Climate.gov. If plastic is placed in a landfill, it can take anywhere from five to 600 years to degrade, depending on its type. The average time it takes for a plastic bottle to decompose is 450 years.

Here’s what the experts have to say about recycling plastics.

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How to Recycle Plastic

Recycling plastic is more difficult than you think. You must flush food and liquids (except water) from the containers before you can put them in the trash. If the plastic isn’t clean, a recycling center employee told CNET, it could contaminate an entire load of plastic, causing the recycling center to send the entire batch to a landfill.

When recycling plastic bottles, check that the label says “crush to keep”. If so, remove the lid and crush the bottle by twisting it from the top and pushing it down. After it’s crushed, put the lid back on the bottle so it can be recycled as well.

Know which plastics are recyclable

All plastics are not created equal. In fact, many people throw all their plastic in the trash without knowing whether it is recyclable or not. If it is not accepted plastic at the recycling center, the employees will throw it in the trash.

So how do you know which plastics are accepted? Check with your local recycling company to see if they accept it. Many recyclers have additional information on their website for items that can and cannot be recycled. If your local waste disposal company provides your trash can, the information may be on the outside of the trash can.

Plastic containers usually have numbers on the bottom that indicate what kind of plastic it is. For example, plastic No. 1 and No. 2 are almost always recyclable, while No. 6 plastics are not always accepted. And if the plastic says “compostable” then it should be composted and not recycled.


Eliminate plastic waste by using reusable bottles, straws and utensils.

Amanda Capritto / CNET

What else can I do?

The first step in avoiding plastic waste is to limit the use of non-reusable plastics, such as plastic bottles. Instead, opt for glass or lidded bottles that you can refill and use on a daily basis. Here are other ways to help.

  • Use reusable straws instead of plastic straws.
  • Do not use plastic utensils unless they can be washed and reused.
  • Recycle plastic bags, see if your local supermarket or recycling center can take them.
  • Use cloth shopping bags.
  • Stop wasting Solo cups and opt for glass or reusable plastic cups instead.
  • Reuse plastic items. Tobias Haider, a research associate at PlastX, told CNET “plastic products wouldn’t be a problem if we reused them.”
  • Remember that Styrofoam is not recyclable and neither are egg cartons, packaging and peanuts. If you have quite a bit of Styrofoam lying around your house, check with schools near you to see if they can use it for projects.

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The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care practitioner if you have any questions about a medical condition or health goals.

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