Recycling Mysteries

For the last two weeks in a row the recycling pick-up truck in my town, New Britain, CT left our carefully sorted plastic bags sitting on the street. New Britain recycles only #1 and #2 plastic. So we always make sure to only put these two kinds in the recycling. In the past this was not a problem but apparently they changed their policy, or rather, they are enforcing it more rigorously.

Today my wife called the Public Works Department and found out that only plastic food containers are recycled, not plastic bags. Never mind that it is the exact same material HDPE #2. Here’s a list of types and an explanation (defined by the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI)):

  • Resin Identification Code
    • Type 1: PETE Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)
      Soda & water containers, some waterproof packaging.
    • Type 2 – HDPE High-Density Polyethylene
      Milk, detergent & oil bottles. Toys and plastic bags.
    • Type 3 – V Vinyl/Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
      Food wrap, vegetable oil bottles, blister packages.
    • Type 4 – LDPE Low-Density Polyethylene
      Many plastic bags. Shrink wrap, garment bags.
    • Type 5 – PP Polypropylene
      Refrigerated containers, some bags, most bottle tops,
      some carpets, some food wrap.
    • Type 6 – PS Polystyrene
      Throwaway utensils, meat packing, protective packing.
    • Type 7 – OTHER Usually layered or mixed plastic.
      No recycling potential – must be landfilled.
  • For more information:


When I was still in grad-school in Delaware, there was a similarly puzzling regulation. Paper was recycled, but not office paper. It was explicitly excluded. Why I don’t know. Office paper is the highest quality paper there is. This is what recycled paper is made from.

One thing is clear, recycling in the US still seems in its infancy. In Germany, where I grew up, there always have been recycling stations throughout town, where you can and drop off you glass (sorted among clear, green, and brown), paper, and cardboard. And for all other recyclables, there is the Yellow Ton, something that has not always been there, but for quite a long time. Here’s a great article discussing what goes into this and various other recycling bins in Germany: GELBE TONNE.

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