First in a series of overviews on plastics bearing a plastic industry number from 1 to 7.
A good portion of the plastic that ends up in bags during my daily walks are water and soda bottles. Most of these containers, normally on the bottom, are stamped with a '1' inside a triangle.
The number '1' denotes the plastic is polyethylene terephthalate, often shortened to the acronym PET or PETE. PETE is notable in that no known chemicals leach from the plastic to the liquid inside and that "Numerous tests have created a broad scientific consensus that PET is non-toxic and is a safe material for the storage of food and beverages," according to a plastic industry trade group, Facts on PETE. The Natural Resources Defense Fund (NRDF) agrees and describes PETE as a benign (my term) category of these materials.
(But it wasn't always that way with some plastics. As recently as 2008, hard bottles, including popular Nalgenes, contained a polycarbonate known as bisphenol A (BPA) which "studies have raised potential concerns that BPA exposure may cause multiple health problems, including reproductive disorders, diabetes and cardiovascular disease," said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Separately, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) reports, "Bisphenol A can leach into food from the protective internal epoxy resin coatings of canned foods and from consumer products such as polycarbonate tableware, food storage containers, water bottles, and baby bottles. The degree to which BPA leaches from polycarbonate bottles into liquid may depend more on the temperature of the liquid or bottle, than the age of the container. BPA can also be found in breast milk." Nalgene has since switched to a BPA-free plastic.)
But more on BPA later.
I've made a huge mistake in my own recycling - the caps on most PETE bottles is of a different - and non-compatable - plastic. Both must be recycled separately. I've never removed the caps to recycle separately, but I am from here on out.
PETE manufactured products are recycled at a rate substantially higher (31% in 2012) than other plastics although the overall recycle for plastics remains abysmally low (9%). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates 32 million tons of plastic waste were generated in 2012, the most recent year of reporting on the EPA website (EPA.gov). That correlates to our use of petroleum-based plastics which has zoomed; plastics account for about 13% of the municipal waste stream, up from 1% in 1960.
PETE shows up in many household products, including mouthwash bottles, ketchup bottles, medicine jars, peanut butter jars, combs, bean bags, and rope. Recycled PETE is used to make tote bags, carpet fiber, plastic sheeting and straps, fiberfill material in winter clothing, salad dressing containers, among others - including beer bottles.
(In my ignorance, however, I've inadvertently added to the pileup of waste.
The caps atop most PETE containers are of a different plastic, often coded #2. These plastics aren’t compatible and one will contaminate the ‘melt’ of the other during the recycling process. So when you recycle PETE containers, be sure to remove the lids and recycle those separately.)
So what does the ‘1’ and subsequent numbers mean?
The numbers are actually SPI Resin Identification Codes. These codes, from 1 through 7, originated through “… SPI (Society of the Plastics Industry) trade association, in 1988,” according to the EPA and were developed at the request of the recycling industry. The numbers serve as a guide to recyclers so as not to commingle various plastics that could compromise the recycling process “The RICs are used solely to identify the plastic resin used in a manufactured article,” says SPI (www.plasticsindustry.org).
The tale of the tape here is to recycle as often as you can. Check the bottom of containers and jars. Look for the #1. PETE is omnipresent in so many consumer materials that we ought to see if each of us can’t do our part to raise the 31% recycle rate to 50% – if not higher.
Next time: #2 plastics.