The Northeaster reached out to Katrina Lund, Director of Community Engagement at Eureka Recycling, 2828 Kennedy Street NE, to better understand what plastics residents can throw in their blue recycling bins. Eureka is the vendor the city of Minneapolis uses for recycling.
Could you explain why black plastic cannot be recycled?
The types of material that Eureka collects for recycling depends on our ability to sort that material in our recycling facility and then sell that material to a manufacturer to be made into a new product. At Eureka’s recycling facility in Minneapolis, through a series of hard-working individuals and high-tech machines, we sort over 400 tons of material a day by shape, weight and size. What comes in as one big pile has to leave in one of a dozen recyclable categories. At Eureka we collect, sort and sell #1, #2 #5 plastic, aluminum cans, steel and tin cans, cardboard, paper, glass, and mixed material cartons like juice and milk boxes. One way that our recycling facility sorts plastic is called an Optical Sorter. It uses a laser to scan, read, and separate specific types of plastic by their resin number or type. Black plastic is unable to be read by the optical sorter because of its color. The black color of the plastic absorbs all light, so there is no info to refract back to the sorting machine, making it unable to be scanned or sorted through our recycling facility.
Even if this weren’t the case and our optical sorters were able to scan, read and sort black plastic, that only gets us halfway to making something recyclable. Recyclables are bought and sold just like raw materials, and there needs to be an end market demand from a manufacturer to make a material into something new and to justify the cost of a recycling facility collecting and sorting it. Black plastic has a very low end market demand, mostly because after you add dyes, additives and colorants to plastic, they cannot be removed. Black plastic can only be turned into more black plastic. As a zero waste organization, we believe that recycling is one tool toward zero waste and that recycling shouldn’t be the solution for every product. Working toward a zero waste future means eliminating single-use plastics, especially those that are hard to recycle or can only be recycled once before ultimately ending up in the trash.
What do the numbers on the underside of plastics mean?
The number on the underside of a plastic container corresponds to its type of plastic. Each type of plastic #1-6 has different chemical characteristics. The chasing arrows symbol around the number does not indicate that a product is actually recyclable. It only indicates the type of chemicals used to make the plastic.
Aside from black plastic containers, are there any other plastics that cannot be recycled?
#3, #6 and #7 plastics are not recyclable. Some #7 plastics are compostable (PLA) but no #7s are recyclable.
Can chemicals leach into hot food items placed in black plastic containers? Does this happen if the container is placed in the microwave?
As recyclers we don’t have expertise on this issue, however, as a zero waste organization, we do recommend that folks limit their use of single-use plastic and try to use alternative materials like glass if they can.
What happens to black plastic containers and other items collected that cannot be recycled by Eureka?
Items that cannot be recycled at Eureka leave our facility as trash and are sent to an incinerator or landfill.
Is it important that people rinse out all plastic, glass and other recyclable materials before throwing them into their recycling bins?
We encourage folks to give their recyclables a quick rinse, but it’s not imperative that they be squeaky clean. Because everything in our facility is sorted by shape, weight and size, it’s a good rule of thumb to make sure that a container isn’t heavy with food waste or residual food before putting it into your recycling bin. It’s also important that containers maintain their original shape and size. So for instance, please do not crush your aluminum cans or milk cartons. In that same vein, please make sure your cardboard and paper are flattened to ensure they make it where they are supposed to go in our recycling facility.
Anything else people can do to help?
Take a virtual tour of our recycling facility by visiting www.eurekarecycling.org. While there, make sure to check out our “What Can I Recycle” page to learn what is and isn’t recyclable at Eureka Recycling. You can also download our Eureka Recycling app by searching Eureka Recycling in your app store.