Today, most types of plastic are not recyclable — only plastics #1, #2, and #5 are widely recycled. Each family of plastics requires different processes. Even within a single plastic type, different melting points for specific types of packaging means they cannot be mixed. For example, PET bottles and PET thermoform clamshell packaging, although made of the same type of plastic, must be separated before they can be recycled. The clamshells melt at a lower temperature and turn to ash if heated to the melting point required to recycle PET bottles. Plastic Recycling Must Prove It Works For the past 30 years, plastic recycling claims have mostly been greenwashing. Greenpeace has repeatedly criticized plastic recycling, which the oil industry has touted to justify single-use packaging since the 1990s, with little progress. PET bottles and clamshell containers are the most-recycled forms of plastic, but the overall recycling rate across all types of plastic may be as low as 5%, with another 10% of plastics burned to produce energy. At least 85% of plastics end up in a landfill and industry clean-up efforts have achieved less than 0.2% of their goals. Reduced Waste and Recycling Start With Us The challenge for plastic recycling is its long record of failure. People don’t believe the system works. The passage of new extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws in Maine, California, Oregon and Colorado during 2022 will require plastic manufacturers to fund collection and processing programs in those states. Now, 33 states have some form of EPR legislation in place, which will help finance the emergence of a new recycling infrastructure. Buy less single-use plastic. The source of the problem is plastic, which has exploded into everyday life over the past 50 years. Recycling plastic does not justify our continued use of single-use plastic because at least half of the PET bottles and clamshells purchased do land in the dump, where they endure for decades or centuries. Reducing our reliance on plastic does not have to mean cutting it out. However, it can lead to substantially less waste if you choose to eliminate plastic from your purchasing. For example, you might buy soda in cans, which are recycled at substantially higher rates. Reducing plastic consumption and recycling the plastic you do buy can quickly lower your plastic waste by 50% or more. Buy only 100% recycled PET bottles. Your purchases send a signal, and you can tell the companies you buy from to use packaging that lives up to your expectations. Several major soda and water bottling companies, including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Danone, and Nestlé have introduced bottles made of 100% recycled PET, known as “RPET,” in some of their product lines. But RPET supplies have not kept up with demand, and Pepsi has rolled back part of its RPET promise because of high costs. ResearchandMarkets.com suggests that today’s $8.9 billion RPET market will grow by 31.46% by 2026 in an effort to keep up with demand. Understand and follow your local PET recycling rules. Plastic and other recyclables need to be clean and dry when placed in the bin, regardless of where you are. That’s where simplicity ends. The rules laid down by your local recycler will vary, so check your local recycling service site to understand what is accepted and how it must be sorted in your community. As noted above, even though both the Coke bottle and thermoform clamshell package that contained your lettuce are made of PET (marked with a “1” surrounded by chasing arrows on the packaging), they cannot be recycled together — more than half of the recycling programs Earth911 tracks currently refuse #1 thermoform containers. We may pay a premium for RPET packaging in the short run but with sufficient demand, consumers can expect efficiencies in local recycling and manufacturing innovation that bring the cost down, perhaps below, that of virgin plastic.