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How to Recycle Different Packaging Materials

Every November 15th, the United States celebrates National Recycling Day. While you may not have been previously aware of this nationwide event, it marks a very important movement toward sustainability. As recently as 2018, over 292.4 million tons of waste was generated in the United States — equal to about 4.9 lbs. per person per day. Of that number, only about 32% was recycled, while the rest ended up in landfills around the country — almost 200 million tons of waste. When it comes to packaging waste specifically, recycling rates are a little higher at about 53.9% of around 80 million tons, but that still leaves quite a bit of material going to local landfills. It’s clear that there’s room for improvement across the board when it comes to recycling, but sometimes knowing what and how to recycle different packaging materials can be tough. That’s why we’re going over three of the most common types of packaging and how best to recycle them.

How to Recycle Foam Packaging

Foam packaging materials, such as takeout containers or packing peanuts, are ubiquitous, but are on a downward trend in popularity due to their perception as being less environmentally friendly than supplies like paper. But did you know that foam is actually recyclable? Polystyrene foam, which is also called expanded polystyrene (EPS) or Foam #6, is a type of thermoplastic that can be recycled time and time again when brought to one of over 200 foam recycling drop-offs in the United States. At these locations, EPS will be converted into pellets for further use. Check out this recycling map to find the one closest to you: 

man in black t-shirt holding two stacked foam takeout containers

How to Recycle Paper Packaging

Paper is widely considered to be one of the most sustainable varieties of packaging material because it is so easily recycled by the general public. Most often, paper can be tossed right into the recycling bin in your home and then curbside recycled on a weekly basis. This ease of use makes it apparent why paper packaging gets such a good reputation in terms of environmental friendliness. Items like paper mailers, kraft void fills, paperboard containers, corrugated boxes, and beyond are a safe bet for sustainability. When it comes time to recycle your paper packaging, simply seek out your city’s curbside or public recycling bins and programs.

How to Recycle Plastic Packaging

Plastic Films and Poly Bags:

Whether it’s the poly bag or mailer that your recent ecommerce purchase arrived in or it’s the mass of stretch film that was wrapped around the pallets that just showed up in your warehouse, these plastic packaging materials can in fact be recycled. Most of the time, you can bring poly bags and films to your local grocery store and drop them in the labeled bins out front. Just make sure you’ve removed any and all food waste from the plastic and be sure not to include biodegradable plastics. Call your city to check in on any further specific instructions for its recycling facilities.

All Other Plastics:

  • Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE or PET) — PETE and PET plastics are widely accepted in curbside programs, so long as they do not have any food or other matter still inside. Similar to PP, just make sure all caps have been thrown in the garbage unless otherwise noted.
  • High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) — Usually, HDPE plastics are fully recyclable through the average curbside program. This doesn’t account for thinner materials like poly bags but, as mentioned above, those can generally be taken to your local supermarket.
  • Polyvinyl Chloride (P or PVC) — Unfortunately, this variety of plastic packaging is very difficult to recycle. If you’re determined to make it happen though, give your city’s waste department a call to see if it can be brought to a recycling center nearby.

plastic recycling symbols by number with check marks or an x underneath
  • Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE) — It’s more difficult to dispose LDPE plastics through curbside recycling, though some municipalities do allow them. Most often, you’ll probably end up needing to get rid of these materials in the regular trash.
  • Polypropylene (PP) — Some curbside recycling programs accept PP plastics, but not all. This material is often used for food containers, so if your location allows them, make sure to remove all food residue and throw any caps into the trash before recycling.
  • Polystyrene (PS) — Most recycling programs do not accept PS when it comes in the form of a rigid plastic, but there is good news. Often, this can be swapped for more recycling bin-friendly PET.
  • Other Plastics — The above listed plastic packaging supplies are the most commonly used in the U.S. If you don’t see it listed here, chances are that it’ll be tough to get rid of through standard curbside recycling. As always, simply give the waste department in your city or county a call if you have questions about a specific material.

Recycling for the Future

Reducing waste is essential to protecting our Earth’s natural resources, and recycling the packaging materials we receive is one simple way to do so. Whether it’s on National Recycling Day or any other day of the year, contributing to the reuse of existing materials means that less waste is generated and sent to landfills. For further information on what kind of sustainable packaging materials your business can use, contact one of our packaging experts today by giving us a call at (800) 277-7007.