The number game: How to recycle properly

Ramya Subramaniam, Student Life Editor

As the world becomes more educated on the topic of climate change, people are becoming more conscious of their recycling habits. But their increased efforts to save the environment may not always be doing good.

In order to figure out if something is recyclable, many people look at the back or bottom of the product they are using. If it has the recycling sign, they will toss it in the recycling bin. For most this can be a mindless task, but on countless occasions people fail to recognize the numbers inside of those green triangles. 

Scaling from one to seven, most recyclable products have one of the numbers in the middle of the recycling sign. Each number represents how the product can be recycled and how easy it is to recycle it. For example, one or two shows the plastic is easily recyclable, while three through seven shows the product is difficult and more expensive to recycle. 

The codes distinguish between different types of plastics such as Polyethylene Terephthalate, High density Polyethylene, Polyvinyl Chloride and more. 

Many people like junior Lizzie McVey are unaware of the meaning behind these numbers. “I have never heard of them, but I have seen them. I never really looked into them though,” she said.

Items marked with  different numbers cannot all be recycled together. If they are, many of the products go into the landfill because of the inability to sort them out. Later these products usually end up in another country, polluting their environment and harming the wildlife.

President of the PV Environmental Club Allison Suen believes people should try their best to dispose of their products properly. “It [recycling] does not really take that much effort even if you have to drive to the recycling center. If you take it and it ends up actually getting recycled, that’s great; if it ends up being put in landfills, at least you did your part in recycling and you cannot always control what bigger companies and agencies do,” she commented. 

China used to take the plastics that were harder to recycle, but they stopped in 2018. Currently, there is a big push for companies who create these plastics to collect and properly dispose of these products. The companies cannot do much though if citizens are not disposing of their recyclables properly.

While people still struggle to distinguish between trash and recycling, Suen hopes that more people are willing to be educated about these numbers. “It’s all about just bringing awareness to recycling. Just telling people to recycle their paper or plastic bottles at home will make a difference,” she reflected. “We could also do more campaigns that work towards teaching people how to recycle like having to wash out plastic bottles and throwing out caps.”

Suen is well-versed in the world of recycling and she believes educating the population on small tasks they can do, such as how to sort out recyclables, can be beneficial. “Always look at the numbers on recyclables, look it up online, and then you go to the Scott County Waste Commission Website’s Recycling tab to confirm if you can take your recycling there,” she said.

If people are interested and care about learning more about recycling, there are many resources available on the internet describing how to use the numbers on products to make sure the products are disposed of properly. 

People such as Suen are working towards educating people on the practice of recycling, and for them it is important to get this information distributed in order to benefit the environment in the long run.