Please Explain: Recycling Plastic

Friday, April 23, 2010

Our latest Please Explain is all about plastic recycling! Eric Goldstein, senior attorney in the Natural Resource Defense Council's New York office and co-director of NRDC's urban program, joins us to explain what happens after plastic is tossed into the recycling bin and goes through the process of being re-created and reused.


Eric Goldstein

Comments [30]

Kate from Highland Park, NJ

To Michelle from Brooklyn,
If you feel like taking a drive out to Pottstown,PA, there is a recycling service that takes styrofoam (and almost everything else,too) that gets reused; the last time I asked they were getting it to someone to stuff archery targets. Check out their website

Apr. 24 2010 11:38 AM
Beth Terry @ Fake Plastic Fish from Oakland, CA

Recycling is not the answer to the plastic problem. Consumers want to be able to continue to buy plastic and have the city take care of the mess afterward. But making the effort to use less plastic in the first place is the only way to stem the tide of plastic pollution.

I'm surprised that Eric Goldstein didn't speak more about the fact that so much of our plastic recycling is sold and shipped to countries like China, where entire towns have become toxic waste dumps of U.S. plastic trash.

The plastics industry promotes the idea that community recycling programs are the answer to the plastic problem. But why should cities be forced to pay the cost of the waste that is created by plastics manufacturers in the first place? If companies were required to practice Extended Producer Responsibility and take back their plastic waste for recycling, you can bet they'd produce a lot less of it in the first place.

Juli in Woodside (the second commenter up above) mentioned my blog, Fake Plastic Fish, which is all about finding ways to live with less plastic. But I want to say that her blog, PlasticLess NYC, is even more useful to NY residents. She and I have both cut our plastic consumption considerably and want to help others realize that they can too.

What's more, you don't have to eat food out of plastic containers. Eric Goldstein mentioned the chemical additives in plastic. What he didn't say is that all of those chemicals can leach out into our food and beverages. And in addition to those he mentioned, another type of plastic additive is antibacterial chemicals like Triclosan, an ingredient in antibacterial soaps and other products. Do you really want that kind of stuff leaching into your food?

Many people don't realize that the 3 R's, Reduce Reuse Recycle, are written in order of importance. Before even considering recycling, we should reduce our plastic consumption as much as possible and then reuse whatever we can. Recycling should be a very last resort.

Apr. 23 2010 10:47 PM
Juli from Woodside, Queens

Michelle- if it is styrofoam peanuts, ask at a local shipping/mailing store to see if they will take them, or if you work in a big office ask the mail room. Otherwise, try to re-use the styrofoam you have collected in some way. NYC does not accept styrofoam (polystyrene) for curbside recycling and I'm not aware of a reclycling program for styrofoam in NYC.

This site has some ideas for re-use:

Apr. 23 2010 03:07 PM
Michelle from Brooklyn

Hi Juli from Woodside,

Do you know where one can recycle styrofoam? Anyone? I have soo much styrofoam in my closet and I don't want to throw it in the garbage!

Michelle from Brooklyn

Apr. 23 2010 02:56 PM
Juli from Woodside, Queens

Tom from the UWC: Build It Green! NYC will take "Paint - latex or spray only, less than 1yr old, no rust on can" More info at their website,

Apr. 23 2010 02:44 PM
Juli from Woodside, Queens

Michelle from Brooklyn: Many retail stores have collection boxes for plastic bags. The types that can be recycled are plastic carryout bags and "other types of plastic bags, such as plastic dry cleaning bags and plastic newspaper delivery bags". More information can be found at NYCWasteLe$$. I will put the link below, but it may not display properly.

Apr. 23 2010 02:32 PM
Juli from Woodside, Queens

Sorry- that link for Aveda's cap recycling program is here:

Apr. 23 2010 02:24 PM
CM from nyc

I would love to know and understand why the city, which needs money so badly, does not resume issuing fines to buildings that don't know (or don't care) what to recycle. A few years back, when fines WERE issued, the recycling in my residential & workplace NYC neighborhoods was done correctly. We got informed right fast! Nowadays it seems that folks don't care to inform themselves as to what can and cannot be recycled despite the clear, illustrated information provided by the city.

Apr. 23 2010 02:23 PM
Juli from Woodside, Queens

Susan from Manhattan: many rigid threaded plastic caps are made from #5 plastic. Currently Aveda stores have a program to collect and recycle these caps. You can take them to any Aveda location- I've taken some to the stores at Grand Central and Columbus Circle, and employees have gladly accepted them. More about Aveda's program is here:,EGLC:2006-21,EGLC:en&q=aveda+plastic+bottle+caps

Softer, more flexible caps like those on milk jugs and juice containers are probably not made from #5 plastic, and should go in the trash.

Other items made from #5 plastic- like yogurt and take-out containers, and spent Brita water filters, can be taken it to participating Whole Foods for a collection program called Gimme 5. I know that Union Square and Columbus Circle Whole Foods have collection boxes. The new recycling legislation proposed by Speaker Quinn would include #5 plastics in NYC's curbside recycling, but if passed this won't take effect for at least a couple more years.

Apr. 23 2010 02:21 PM
Aleks from Brooklyn

to Peter from Manhattan:

the city takes only bottles and jugs because they are blown plastics rather than molded, which apparently makes a difference in the processing techniques used to recycle them.

Apr. 23 2010 02:05 PM
Connie from Westchester

This is a GREAT segment. Please have more about this in the future. Everybody is so confused and it becomes so difficult to sort things properly for recycling.

Apr. 23 2010 02:01 PM
Emily from NY

From the Dept. of Sanitation website, regarding disposal of compact fluorescent bulbs:

Residents - There is currently no law prohibiting residents from placing household CFLs in their trash, but to prevent injury to Sanitation workers, double bag CFLs before discarding.

Alternatively, CFLs and other fluorescents are considered special waste and can be dropped off at any of the NYC Department of Sanitation's Special Waste Drop-Off Sites. CFLs can also be dropped off for recycling at any Home Depot or IKEA.

Apr. 23 2010 01:57 PM
Jesse Hicks from Brooklyn

Can all Number 1 and 2 plastics be recycled in NYC?

Apr. 23 2010 01:57 PM
tom from uws

Haven't found a place to take half-full paint cans etc in NYC. HELP.
Your compact fluorescents can go to Home Depot, Ikea and some others.

Apr. 23 2010 01:54 PM
Daniel from Astoria

What problems, if any, do you see with new City Council legislation?

Apr. 23 2010 01:53 PM
j from bklyn

a company called Terracycle in NJ collects plastic fast food bags, etc to produce sellable items that are actually quite nice. They are working with school systems to pay them for their usable wastestreams. check it out!

Apr. 23 2010 01:50 PM
Kevin from N.J.

The NY NJ metro region politcal subdivisions have special authorities, like the Port Authority, which attempt a regional approach to problem solving. Do any regional authorities exist or are planned for creation to address these recycling/disposal issues? If not, why not?

Apr. 23 2010 01:50 PM
JG from central Jersey

I was hospitalized recently and was surprised how much waste there was in the hospital and it seemed like NOTHING was recycled.

Shouldn't recycling be mandatory???

Apr. 23 2010 01:50 PM
Aleks from Brooklyn

My understanding is that nyc recycles only #1 and #2 containers where the mouth is smaller than the body. I have a lot of friends who put all kinds of plastics into their recycling, including all numbers and things like soymilk containers and I was wondering what happens to those plastics that nyc claims it does not recycle.

Apr. 23 2010 01:46 PM
Michelle from Brooklyn

To Carol,

You should use biodegradable bags for your cat's poop. I think they might sell them at Crest True Value Hardware (there is one on Williamsburg, Brooklyn).

What kind of plastic bags can I recycle? Also, where can we recycle styrofoam?



Apr. 23 2010 01:46 PM
Peter from Manhattan

The only plastic the city recycles are bottles and jugs. Why is it limited to just those things?

Apr. 23 2010 01:44 PM
Susan from Manhattan

Please advise: where can you recycle plastic bottle CAPS? they do not have a recycle symbol or number on them and accumulate rapidly.

Apr. 23 2010 01:41 PM
David Blaustein from Live in Clinton Hill Brooklyn

Please ask whether virgin plastic or recycled would have less off-gassing

Apr. 23 2010 01:39 PM
Harvey Wolchan from Yorktown Heights

Why should I not recycle #2 Plastic containers that was used for motor oil?

Apr. 23 2010 01:39 PM
mozo from nyc

In 1964 J. G. Ballard wrote a novel called "The Burning World" (later expanded to "The Drought" in 1965) in which he describes a future in which the oceans are polluted by industrial waste that has created a barrier of polymers that prevent evaporation and destroys precipitation cycles.

I saw the photos of the plastic "island" and immediately thought of the book.

Apr. 23 2010 01:37 PM
Reg Collins from Brooklyn

There is a great short film, meditating on the existence of a plastic bag and human waste in general, directed by Ramin Bahrani, with the bag voiced by Werner Herzog:

Apr. 23 2010 01:36 PM

I live in an apartment and have cats and feel guilty about using plastic to dispose of the litter. What's the alternative?

Apr. 23 2010 01:36 PM
Jane from New Jersey

Compostable plastic?
Biodegradable plastics?
True or greenwashing?

Apr. 23 2010 01:33 PM
Juli from Woodside, Queens

Recycling is fine, but there is a reason it is last in the heirarchy of Reduce, Re-use, Recycle. The best online resource I've found for living in a modern world with a lot less plastic is at Beth Terry's blog Fake Plastic Fish,

Captain Charles Moore, the man credited with discovering the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, says that our plastic footprint on the earth could be worse than our carbon footprint. For more information on why that is, take a look at 5 Gyres,

Recycling plastic is not enough, not nearly. We need to use a LOT less of it.

Juli in Woodside
(yes, I have a blog too--PlasticLess NYC

Apr. 23 2010 12:20 PM
sr from NJ

My question is about the plastic bags from frozen vegetables. how do i safely dispose/recycle these.
BTW i live in Millburn NJ. thanks

Apr. 23 2010 08:10 AM

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