Plastics, or the Myth of the Chasing Arrows

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At Sedona Recycles we take a wide range of materials from cardboard and paper to plastics and cans. Our goal is to responsibly take and recycle as many materials as possible. We will take materials as long as we can assure those that recycle with us that these materials can be used to make new things, which is the true meaning of recycling.

Plastics have always been the most complicated of the materials we take. This is due to a number of misconceptions about what is recyclable and what is not. It is further complicated by the lack of manufacturing opportunities domestically for the use of recycled content in the manufacture of new items.

The number one misconception about plastics concerns the number that is embossed on most plastics surrounded by the chasing arrows. The number is a resin code for the chemicals used in the products manufacture. The chasing arrows have long been associated with the ability to recycle the product. Many of the products stamped with a resin code have never really been recyclable and even when exported were not seeing a new life. They became a contributor to both litter and when burned, which they often were to air pollution. By exporting theses plastics our consumption habits had a direct effect on the quality of life in other countries.

The plastics that are easily recyclable in the U. S. are #1 made up of clear plastic bottles which are typically water bottles and clamshell packaging of the type that you purchase berries and salad mix in. Although these are both #1 they cannot be put together and have to be sorted and baled separately. Number 2 plastics which include milk jugs and detergent type bottles are easily recycled and used domestically to make new bottles. This is the good news now is where things get really tricky. China for over 10 years accepted bales of plastics called 3 through 7. These bales were made up of everything other than 1 and 2. Truth be told most all of these plastics never saw a second life and became a contributor to a polluted environment. This year China stopped accepting 3 through 7 plastics altogether and this is a good thing but how do we in the U. S. get the word out to consumers not to purchase materials that cannot be recycled? The producers of these products aren’t going to let you know so it is up to the recyclers to make the information available.

Sedona Recycles has taken an extraordinary approach to this issue. It started as an experiment to see how much of the plastic labeled 3 through 7 make up the plastics stream. We then identified that if we collected number 5 plastics separately we could find a home for this material in the U. S. for manufacturing. We were happy to discover that most of the plastics other than 1 and 2 that we received were number 5. Until consumers catch up with what we are doing in terms of sorting out materials that are numbers 3, 4, 6 and 7 these plastics become part of our trash.

Here is some information to help you identify these non-recyclable plastics that we can’t accept. Number 3 plastics are rarely found and are candleholders that are red and sometimes clear and the occasional mustard bottle. Number 4 plastics are plastic bags which we have never accepted and can be recycled locally at Bashas and Safeway stores. Number 6 plastics are take out containers and meat trays made of expanded polystyrene, which are another product we have never taken. Number 7 plastics are sometimes used to manufacture juice and ice tea bottles and are a stiffer plastic than those used in water bottles.

So now that you are aware it is up to you as a consumer to purchase products with packaging that can really be recycled. This is the only way the producers of these products will get the message and stop using non-recyclable materials in their packaging. Don’t be fooled by the number inside the arrows it doesn’t guarantee that the product can be recycled. At Sedona Recycles we always do our best to produce materials that can become something new hopefully many times over. Thank you for doing your part and separating your materials, it is the only way recycling can really work. For more information visit our website at or better yet come in to the center and watch the sorting line in action or volunteer and get hands on experience.

by Jill McCutcheon, Sedona Recycles

Sedona Red Rock News

October 18, 2017