CAN I RECYCLE IT?

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Everyone! The first law mandating recycling went into effect in Connecticut on January 1, 1991. Since then, a number of other regulations and laws have gone into effect increasing the particular types of products or categories that are designated to be recycled including bottles, cans, cardboard and newspapers. Connecticut recycling laws apply to every business, household, institution and government agency in Connecticut. Click here to learn more.

Although some towns provide trash and recycling service to small multi-family residences (buildings with 2-4 units), most apartment buildings, condo associations and businesses must contract directly with a trash hauler to provide trash and recycling service. The law requires "source separation". This means that you must separate the recyclables from the trash where they are generated. Your hauler cannot separate them later if they have been mixed with trash. In addition, your hauler is required by law to offer you both trash and recycling services.

Recycling By the Numbers: Plastics #1-#7
More and more of our everyday packaging is being made out of plastic. These materials are often marked with numbers and chasing arrows or a solid triangle that we, as consumers and residents, use to help us figure out if it can be recycled. However, these numbers are not intended for us, nor do they help sort what is or is not accepted for recycling.

Not all plastics are alike.
Plastic packaging, including containers such as bottles, tubs, jugs; or plastic films such as bags, wrap or flexible plastic such as pouches have different properties. These properties, including melting temperature, impact resistance, elasticity and strength, create the need for them to be recycled separately (not mixed together).

The plastics industry created the Resin Identification Coding System (RIC) to be used by the industry itself. It was never intended to be a recycling symbol to help residents with their recycling. These numbers often contribute to residents’ confusion about plastic recycling. City and town Recycling Coordinators began using them, but it is better to use descriptive terms to help residents understand how and what to recycle.

Numbers are Confusing
A good example of where the numbers can create confusion is with laundry detergent bottles and plastic bags. Both may have the same RIC number (#2) for High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) plastic, but the collection and ultimate recycling of these items differ. Bags are directed to retail collection rather than curbside programs and generally end up going through different recycling processes than bottles.

Packaging is Changing
Today, we generally purchase less glass containers. Our plastic bottles and aluminum cans are becoming lighter. More foods are coming in flexible packaging (i.e., pouches). Given all these changes, we cannot rely on the RIC system to help residents have a clear understanding of how and what to recycle.

Connecticut is Part of a National Effort
There is a national effort underway to improve plastic recycling education with a focus on using clear, descriptive terms and images. RIC numbers are only used when limited items are accepted or to convey an exclusion to the program. At the end of the day, it’s less confusing to say “Recycle your bottles and containers,” than to say “Recycle your Plastic #1-#7.” Using only RIC numbers can make residents feel that they need to know more about plastics than they do. This in turn can lead to less recycling participation or recycling incorrectly, e.g. throwing everything plastic in their bin.

Survey Says…
For a number of years, members of the plastic industry have been leading a project to help reduce confusion around plastic recycling. Industry groups collaborated and endorsed the use of descriptive terms and images for plastic recycling education. A survey done at the start of the “terminology project” indicated that the majority of 129 respondents believed that using terms would be an improvement over a number-based recycling education for plastics.*

Results from a resident survey in Greensboro, NC* showed that when the city put “Plastics 1-2” in their education materials to indicate that recyclable items like soda bottles and milk containers are accepted, one third of the residents didn’t understand that those were accepted in the town’s recycling program. This led the city of Greensboro to switch their plastics outreach to use descriptive terms and images to show exactly what should be in the bins instead of the previous “All Plastics 1-7” messaging.

RecycleCT’s What’s In, What’s Out Campaign also uses descriptive terms and imagery to help educate and encourage resident consumers to recycle plastic and glass bottles and jars, aluminum and tin cans, and plastic tubs, jugs and cups.

*MoreRecycling: www.morerecycling.com, 2014

For additional information, visit Recycle Your Plastics a site created by the American Chemistry Council and More Recycling – includes tips and tools, best practices and ready access to experts and peers in the recycling world on plastics recycling for recycling professionals.

Contact your local recycling coordinator at the town hall or local Department of Public Works. Many towns also have websites that can provide you with this information. If you live in an apartment building or condominium complex, you will need to contact your trash/recycling hauler or provide your own container.

All municipalities have local ordinances requiring recycling of the mandatory recyclables. Local communities have the power to enforce these local ordinances about recycling, litter and illegal dumping. Sample Recycling Enforcement Letters can be found by clicking here.

In Connecticut we dispose of about 4 pounds of trash per resident, per day, and recycle the rest. That means that each of us is sending about ¾ ton of trash to be burned or buried each year. 

Unless your hauler has a split truck (most do not) your trash and recyclables should be picked up separately. If you see someone mixing trash and recyclables, call your town hall and ask to speak to your local recycling coordinator, or call the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection at (860) 424-3366 and file a complaint.

Residential mixed recycling collected curbside or at transfer stations are brought to one of five material recovery facilities in Connecticut. The MRF employs people and technology to separate out aluminum, tin/steel, paper, plastic and glass containers. These materials are processed and baled or boxed and sold to manufacturers looking for those raw materials to make new products.

Recyclables must be collected and then processed and shipped to companies that can use them as raw materials to make new products. Each step of the process has an associated cost. Revenues for recycled materials, which fluctuate like the price of any other raw material, do not always cover the processing costs.

Get involved in Connecticut Recycles Day by coordinating an event in your town. Connecticut Recycles Day takes place every year on November 15. For more information visit the Connecticut Recycles Day website.

Most of Connecticut's residentially-generated trash is sent to one of four Connecticut resource recovery facilities. These plants burn the trash as a fuel to generate electricity. The resulting ash is buried in specially designed lined landfills. These plants have modern pollution controls to reduce air emissions produced from the combustion process.