Most of us faithfully sort our number 1 and 2 plastic bottles and put them in the correct container at the local recycling drop-off. But in the process, we wonder about those other plastics we have to throw in the trash. You know, things like foam cups, yogurt cups (number 5), and number 2 butter tubs. What about the number 3-7 plastics; can we recycle them? The definitive answer is yes…and no. The whole situation is confusing because different places accept different combinations of plastics, often with restrictions.
You may have a single stream subscription where a hauler gives you a big tub, and you fill it with all kinds of materials, including 3-7 plastics. Most of this goes to the Lycoming County Resource Management Services in Montgomery, where they have a system for processing single stream.
The Selinsgrove drop-off has a container for 3-7 plastics, which are taken to Lycoming County. However, only Selinsgrove residents can use the drop-off because they pay a $12-per-quarter fee for recycling. Our other five drop-offs only take 1 and 2 plastics, meaning mostly bottles. We’re looking at putting in a container for 3-7 plastics at one of our other drop-offs, but the market for them is down, so we’re waiting for prices to rebound before we proceed with it. Lycoming County currently stockpiles bales of it because they can’t find a market for it.
To say drop-offs and processing systems take 3-7 plastics is actually a misnomer. They can’t take number 6 polystyrene (foam) because it’s too light and blows around on the conveyors that handle it; you can take that to HandUp Foundation in Milton because they have a system for melting it down into bricks. They can’t take number 3 LDPE because plastic bags get caught in the shafts in single stream conveyors. They can’t take number 4 vinyl because it’s usually too big, like a long piece of siding or window shutter. While you may be able to put these materials in a container, the single stream processing system will have to pick them out for landfilling. In the end, 3-7 actually boils down to number 5 (polypropylene) and 7 (other).
On the good side, these systems do take non-bottle number 1s such as food containers and number 2s such as butter tubs (as an exception, don’t include black PETE food containers such as clamshells). Even though these are made from the same PETE and HDPE materials as bottles, they use a different molding process that changes the materials’ characteristics, so the same recycling process won’t work on it. However, single stream has more flexibility to handle different materials because it relies heavily on photo sensors, which can be trained to sense many materials by shape and size.
The issues with plastics came to light recently when an article in the Daily Item told how the Sunbury Transfer Station temporarily gave up accepting 1 and 2 plastics because they couldn’t find anybody to take them cost effectively. They recently reached a deal with Trigon Plastics in Newmanstown to take 1, 2, 5, and 7 plastics. Trigon is a unique entity that makes plastic lumber, which they in turn use to manufacture plastic furniture. They set up a recycling facility to collect plastics, and they pull out natural-colored HDPE to use for making lumber and bale and sell the rest on the open market.
With this in place, Snyder County residents can now take their 1, 2, 5, and 7 plastics across the river to Sunbury. Just pay 75 cents to raise the arm to let you in. So at least we do have some options, and hopefully, we’ll have more in the future.
See how well you know your plastics. Here’s the numbering system:
1 – Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE; soda bottles)
2 – High-density polyethylene (HDPE; milk jugs, detergent bottles)
3 – Polyvinyl chloride (PVC; pipe, siding)
4 – Low-density polyethylene (LDPE; plastic bags)
5 – Polypropylene (PP; yogurt cups)
6 – Polystyrene (Styrofoam; coffee cups)
7 – Other
Notice: The authority is looking for a volunteer to fill an opening on its board. Join a good cause in advancing recycling in Snyder County. Contact Tom Gibson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 570-374-6889, ext. 115.
Snyder County Recycling Coordinator
Snyder County Solid Waste Management Authority570-374-6889, x-115