They don’t mean much. You just need to know the basic rules for R.I.’s three plastic recycling programs.
Q: What plastic numbers (1-7) can be recycled in Rhode Island?
— B. P. in E.G.
A: Forget the numbers, B.P., because — believe it or not — they don’t mean much. You just need to know the basic rules for R.I.’s three plastic recycling programs.
The first program is the most widely known, and that’s the mixed recycling program (i.e. your recycling bin or cart). For this program, a plastic item needs to be in the form of a container in order to be eligible. “Container” is the magic word. This includes plastic bottles, jugs, jars, tubs, cups, clamshells, etc. Virtually any plastic container up to 5 gallons in size is accepted in your recycling bin or cart. The two key exceptions are foam containers and containers that once held flammable or oily chemicals. Please keep these, and any non-container plastics, out of your recycling bin or cart.
The second program is for plastic bags and film. This is a special drop-off program for virtually all plastic bags and film that are clean, dry, and can stretch (even just a bit) back at large R.I. stores. This includes plastic shopping bags, bread bags, sandwich bags, newspaper sleeves, deflated air packs, and even bubble wrap. The one key exception is clingy food wrap — please place this in the trash. If you can’t drop off your bags and film, please tie them in a knot and toss them in the trash (never in the mixed recycling).
The third and final program is lesser known, but many cities and towns have special drop-off containers for bulky, rigid plastics. We also keep a container here at Resource Recovery, and there are some private recyclers that will take them, too, like Full Circle Recycling in Johnston and Berger Recycling in Pawtucket. In general, this is where you can take things like broken plastic recycling bins, trash barrels, storage totes, shelving, and lawn furniture. Different recyclers have slightly different specifications. Learn more at http://atoz.rirrc.org/items/bulky-rigid-plastics.
Notice that, in describing these programs, I didn’t mention a single number. The numbers that you sometimes see on plastic items are called Resin Identification Codes (RICs). They coincide with the original resin that was used to create the product. Through different molding processes, final products stemming from the same original resin can actually look and feel completely different, and even take on different properties (e.g. different melting points). This, combined with the fact that a RIC says nothing of shape or size, means that it isn’t enough to indicate recyclability — least of all recyclability in any one specific program. While the number is almost always framed with the “chasing arrows,” that symbol does not necessarily equate to recyclability, either.
So, here’s the moral of the story: Learn the basic rules, apply them, and if you get stuck do one of two things: get an answer from us (by calling or visiting our website) or, when in doubt, throw it out.
— Krystal Noiseux is the education and outreach manager at RIRRC. Send your question, including the city or town from where you're writing, to Trash Tutorial, Features Department, The Providence Journal, 75 Fountain St., Providence, RI 02902. Or email email@example.com and put "Trash Tutorial" in the subject field.