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Next up for the plastics in our lives: HDPE #2 …

Look for this symbol on most plastic products. Recycle all of it you can.

Look for this symbol on most plastic products. Recycle all of it you can.

High Density Polyethylene (HDPE, recycle #2) are typically heavier and more rigid containers for food and many household and commercial products. The American Chemistry Council reports nearly 18,000 tons of HDPE resin were manufactured in 2013.

You’ll find HDPE in opaque milk jugs (the single largest use of HPDE), brightly colored laundry detergent bottles, hardhats, playground sets, pipes, hair conditioner bottles, auto parts, 5 gallon buckets and shipping pallets among thousands of other applications.

This includes flimsy plastic bags so commonly used by grocery stores and other merchants. All of these thermoplastics begin – and often see their useful commercial lives revived – in sheet or rod form.

Most clean HDPE products are recyclable. That wasn’t always the case. Until recently, many recyclers turned away motor oil and household cleanser bottles or other containers that held harmful liquids. But has published a long list of containers – including motor oil and household cleaners – that “can be recycled and made into new products.”

Your willingness to recycle creates a market for your plastic waste. As consumers display more willingness to keep plastics out of our landfills, that attitude has driven the market for recyclables, which in turn has boosted the demand for these raw materials among companies that can make a buck in the process. Recyclers pay anywhere from .23 to .45 cents per pound according to

Here in Mecklenburg County (, however, many products that contain HDPE – including appliances and electronics – are not recyclable. Neither are plastic bags although grocery chains such as Harris Teeter post recycle bins near their front entries.

Still, when it comes to plastic bags, you’ve got to be attentive about what can, and what can’t, be recycled. Yours truly needs to be more attentive, too, because I’ve lumped most sorts of plastic sheeting together. offers these FAQs:

Can I recycle it if… The plastic is colored?

YES. Colored material is not a problem for recycling.

It tears like paper?

NO. This type of plastic is currently not accepted in bag recycling bins.

It crinkles loudly like candy wrappers, flower bouquet wrap or chip bags when I mash it in my hand?

NO. Please do not include, as it is not currently acceptable for recycling.

It has labels or tape?

YES, but labels, tape, and adhesive strips SHOULD BE REMOVED prior to putting it in the recycling bin. The integrity of the bag isn’t important—the recycler just wants the clean plastic.

It is thicker, stiff plastic like pet food bags or bedding bags (including anything with a zipper)?

NO. These are not the same type of plastic as what recyclers want, so DO NOT include.

It is silvery or metallic (like some snack packaging or printer ink cartridge packages)?

NO. This material is not acceptable.

If it says it’s degradable or compostable AND recyclable?

NO. Currently, these bags cannot be placed in drop-off bins. The recyclers reprocessing bags don’t want the products they are making to degrade over time so these bags are not acceptable.

It is dirty, has crumbs, or is wet?

NO. Recyclers need the bags and film to be CLEAN and DRY. Please don’t include dirty or wet bags, or any material that has food or other residues. If in doubt, throw it out!

About Dave Bradley (264 Articles)
I'm the one behind two totally unrelated blogs; one on 15 years of writing a weekly letter to my kids (plus other recipients), the other on my localized environmental responsibility. I'm a writer by trade and both endeavors are accepted practice for me. As for the letters, my adult children Ellen and Reid may have seen letters as corny at one point, but it's accepted practice for them, too, to find something in their mailbox other than bills and junk mail. Email and texting don't do a lot for me for a lot of different reasons. Snail mail has its place in the communicative world so as long as they keep selling stamps, I'm buying. As for 'Pick Up Your Path' and the environment, I advocate what citizens can do themselves to take a direct hand in their neighborhood environment. But Pick Up Your Path is also a general environmental blog. It may be largely about litter and trash, but both of those are just one element of the total environmental picture.

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