HomeHow to Recycle OLDUnderstanding Plastic Recycling

Over the past few decades, the use of plastic in manufacturing has increased exponentially. From disposable packaging, like bottles and bags, to durable goods, like watches and appliances, many products that were formerly made of “natural” materials are now made of plastic.

Not all plastic, however, is the same. Each type, or resin, has a unique chemical formula which gives it special properties. In 1988 the plastics industry established identification codes to make separation of different polymers easier and more consistent for recycling.

We don’t find the numbers particularly helpful in determining what is and isn’t recyclable in your blue bin. Not everything with a number is recyclable — and not everything without a number isn’t recyclable. Because we can’t control what manufacturers choose to make, we have no choice but to say no to items that weren’t designed with recyclability in mind.

Recyclable Plastics

For a complete list of what plastic packaging can be recycled in Chittenden County, see the Recycling List.

plastic bag blue no background

Plastic Bags, filmy plastic, and Styrofoam

Even though CSWD accepts Plastics #1-7, we still cannot accept plastic bags, filmy plastic of any kind (e.g. shrink wrap and bubble wrap) or Styrofoam. Please don’t put these in your blue bin! Filmy plastic gets tangled up in the fast-moving gears and conveyor belts that move 360,000 pounds of recyclables a day.

Plastic bags can be recycled through most grocery stores or supermarkets. See the A-Z listing on PLASTIC BAGS for more info.


Durable plastics

Durable plastics, such as those used in the manufacture of telephones, coffee makers, water heater covers, and the like, are not currently recyclable in Chittenden County.

There are two primary reasons why we cannot currently accept durable plastics for recycling:

1. They are not uniform size

The Materials Recovery Facility (or MRF, pronounced like “smurf”) is built to handle recyclables of standard shapes and sizes, like aluminum cans, glass bottles and jars, and rigid plastic food packages. It can process materials that are a minimum of 2″ in any 2 dimensions (i.e. 2″ tall AND 2″ wide), and a maximum of 2 feet.

2. The type of plastic is unknown

Even if durable plastic was broken into manageable piece sizes, we cannot process it alongside the rigid plastic containers that are normally recycled. They are made of different types of plastic, and different types of plastic are not recycled in the same process.

Our facilities are designed for particular types of plastic (as described above). Other types of plastic cannot be recycled here.

We are working on a program to recycle durable plastics, and hope to be able to accept these materials for recycling in the future. Unfortunately, they cannot be recycled at this time.


Plastic resin codes and what they mean

SymbolResin NameExamplesCSWD Rules
polyethylene terephthalatesoda bottles and most water bottles, some clear containers for juice, ketchup, cooking oil, and salad dressingEmpty bottle and re-cap.
high density polyethylenemilk and cider jugs, detergent bottles, some dairy tubs, some shampoo bottles, some plastic bagsNo plastic bags or other "filmy" plastic allowed, regardless of the number! Empty bottles and discard caps.
polyvinyl chloridesome household cleaner bottles, some cooking oil bottles
low density polyethylenemost plastic film bags, most flexible lids, some squeezable plastic containersNo plastic bags or other "filmy" plastic allowed, regardless of the number!
polypropylenesome dairy tubs and take out containers
polystyreneIncludes most Styrofoam products such as meat trays, cups, take out containers, packaging blocks and peanuts. Other non-Styrofoam products include dairy tubs and CD cases.No Styrofoam of any kind allowed.
othersome squeezable bottles and other packaging made from unusual resins or layers of different resin typesSome items labeled #7 are now made from cornstarch and are NOT recyclable. These items usually also are stamped with "PLA" (polylactic acid) and "compostable."