Recycling plastics may soon be futile

BPA-Free Plastics

BPA-Free Plastics

By Catherine Haug, Mar 21, 2015 (Photo, right, from NPR (2)

As a community working towards sustainability, ESPers are, for the most part, avid recyclers. Recycling of many substances just makes sense: glass, paper, and metals. We also put plastic items in the recycle bins, but are they really recycled?

They are certainly sorted and bundled for shipment to recycling companies. But there are very few plastic recycling companies in the US, so most plastics have been shipped to China for recycling. However, China’s new “Green Fence” policy has put a stop to accepting plastic types 3 – 7, as these are the difficult and expensive to recycle. These plastics, which include PVC (#3), LDPE (#4, which includes bags in the produce section), polypropylene (#5), polystyrene (#6), and ‘Other’ (#7) will just go to the local landfills unless American companies step up to the plate. (1)


Refuse to buy/use plastic products

The best way to reduce the toxicity of these bad plastics (#3 – 7) is to stop their production. And the only way to do that is to remove the market for them, which will only happen if we consumers – the market – refuse them.

Even the so-called ‘safe’ plastics have toxicity. #1 plastics (PET and PETE) and #2 plastics (HDPE) which include pop and drinking-water bottles, polar fleece, and supplement containers, contain the hormone disrupting phthalates, and their toxicity worsens with age of the product.

Almost all plastics are made from petroleum; some companies now make them from soy oil, but that does not make them any safer. Some are made from other, recycled, plastics, but they are still plastic, still toxic. Some claim to be biodegradable, but I’m not convinced they total degrade to safe end-products.

Alternatives to plastics

In the kitchen and bath, glass is the best alternative. Pyrex products can go from freezer to refrigerator to oven or stovetop (after warming to room temperature. Another option for food storage is paper coated with beeswax or other safe wax.

For clothing, wool and down provide and safer warmth than polar fleece. Cotton and linen have a better look and drape than polyester, nylon and acrylic.

For toys, you absolutely should avoid plastics because children are the most vulnerable to the toxic effects of plastics. Choose fabric, paper and wood toys.

What’s the harm in these plastics?

See my earlier posts Plastic Recycle Codes and Your Health and Toxic Plastics – Not Just BPA.


  1. Daily KOS:  Think your plastic is being recycled? Think again (
  2. NPR on “Study: Most plastics leach hormone-like chemicals” (

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