Is That Plastic Recyclable? Or Just “Technically” Recyclable?

Trash Talking
7 min readMar 29, 2022

Do you think all plastic is the same? It’s ok to admit if your answer is yes. In fact, I had the same impression for many years.

If it can’t go in here, there’s a good chance it won’t get recycled. (Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash)

Plastics are widely viewed as a substance that can easily be molded and shaped as needed, but it’s not that simple. Although seven official resin codes are used to categorize plastic types, there are actually countless variations due to chemicals, additives, colors, etc.

So why does this matter? Because when plastic is recycled, it can’t all get lumped together; it needs to be separated either by hand or expensive machinery.

Sometimes brands label their products “recyclable” when they actually mean it’s technically recyclable. And in reality, most items that fall under the “technically” category have little chance of actually getting recycled.

In other words, “technically recyclable” actually means “unlikely to be recycled”.

The reason why this truth is hidden from consumers is simple: If you think the product you are buying is recyclable, then you will buy more plastic.

Recyclable vs. Technically Recyclable

Just because something CAN be recycled, doesn’t mean it will be.

Here is how I define the terms:

  • “Recyclable” means that the item is both recyclable AND generally accepted at most recycling facilities.
  • “Technically Recyclable” means it’s possible to recycle the item under the right circumstances, but most recycling facilities don’t accept them for one reason or another. The item may be too difficult, expensive, or not valuable enough to recycle.

Recycling is more difficult and cumbersome than people realize. The recycling rates for PET and HDPE plastics are under 30%, even though they are the easiest plastics to recycle. Imagine how difficult it is to recycle everything else!

Plastics that are technically recyclable are not accepted at most recycling facilities. In other words, you can’t place these items in the recycling bin. And even if you do, the recyclers will just throw them away.

Trash Talking

Questioning the status quo of the waste industry.