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Recycling as easy as 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 !!? How to help kids to recycle plastics

Updated on June 4, 2010
Some of these plastics have hard to pronounce names!
Some of these plastics have hard to pronounce names!

Types of plastics out there

The wonderful world of modern plastics has created a number of plastic products. To an average consumer like me, they all look and feel the same. However, the internal structure of these plastics is very different!
  1. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET /PETE) - soda bottles, a lot of food bottles, some beer bottles. 
  2. High-density polyethylene (HDPE) - milk, orange juice and water jugs. 
  3. Vinyl (V) - plumbing pipes, old records, car decals, clear food packaging
  4. Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) - grocery bags, frozen food packaging
  5. Polypropylene (PP) - Yogurt cans
  6. Polystyrene - plastic cups, packaging peanuts, disposable dishes and eating utensils
  7. All other plastics - cannot be recycled. 

Examples of involving kids in recycling

Here, students are shown what plastics #5 and 6 are and are taught how to identify them, so they don't go into the normal recycling container!
Here, students are shown what plastics #5 and 6 are and are taught how to identify them, so they don't go into the normal recycling container!
Students bring their bottle caps for recycling purposes
Students bring their bottle caps for recycling purposes

Which plastics are recycled?

Like many people, I'm guilty of tossing all plastic in recycle, but apparently not all plastic is valuable or can be recycled!

Most recycling companies are only interested in plastics #1-PETE and #2 - HDPE. Even if you want to recycle these, the containers have to be rinsed and cleaned of food waste! 

Plastic #3 is not recycled frequently enough, because there's not enough products made from it (as opposed to soda bottles).

Plastics #4 - LDPE and #6 - PS are not recycled, because making a new piece of plastic is cheaper than transporting the existing plastic to the recycling facility. Plastic #6 is virtually indestructible and is responsible for a lot of ocean pollution. 

Some supermarkets and recycling programs accept all types of plastics for recycling purposes.


Helping kids remember what to recycle
Helping kids remember what to recycle

Repurposing plastics

Some plastics cannot be recycled cost effectively, and are instead re-purposed, as with this kool handbag :)
Some plastics cannot be recycled cost effectively, and are instead re-purposed, as with this kool handbag :)

Helping kids recycle.

The most important part about helping kids and students recycle is to educate them about the plastic numbers. Otherwise, they would act like me - dump everything in the recycle bin and feel good about themselves! This is not the way to go, as it actually hinders a lot of real recycling efforts.

Luckily, the Upper Dublin township in Pennsylvania provides classes to over 800 students a month through its Robbins park environmental education program!

In order to identify the kin of plastic used in a package, look at the bottom of the package and find a little triangle, like a one shown above. If it says #1 or #2, drop it in the recycle bin. Otherwise, put it aside for a special recycle program, if it is offered in your area.

Because some plastics are too expensive to recycle, the best solution is to reduce their use and reuse them afterwards, as in the example of this cool reused handbag!

Try to recycle today and keep your streets and parks clean by not littering!


A repurposed plastic bag

A plastic handbag made by local students from repurposed drink pouches packets
A plastic handbag made by local students from repurposed drink pouches packets

environmentally friendly living

Improperly recycled plastics get broken down into tiny particles and get ingested by aquatic wildlife, causing many health issues!
Improperly recycled plastics get broken down into tiny particles and get ingested by aquatic wildlife, causing many health issues!

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