Why I didn’t recycle my plastic yogurt container

My friend Pete asked, “Why was the plastic yogurt container trashed? Why wasn’t that recycled?” Good question Pete.

I buy single serve yogurt containers. Lately I’ve been buying them in cardboard packaged six-packs at BJ’s because it is cheaper than buying them individually from the grocery store. To log this in my trash diary I count the cardboard and foil top as recycled, and the plastic container is as trash.

NYC does not accept that type of plastic in the residential recycling program right now. (Although they’re working towards accepting all plastics by 2012).

Plastic comes in all sorts of different types, shapes and sizes, and has so many different applications. But that’s exactly why plastic is hard to recycle.

That number on the bottom of the container (#1 – #7) is the resin code, which just tells you what type of plastic it is. There are some indicators on a container as to how it may be molded (blow molding or injection molding), and even fewer indicators (if any at all) as to what additives may be included in the manufacturing process. Each one of these components affects how the plastic can be melted down for reprocessing (and that doesn’t even take into account things like labels and contaminants such as food remnants that can also get in the way.)

Plastic bottles are the most recycled type of plastic because 95% of these are #1 PET or #2 HDPE and are easily recognizable by shape (which makes them easy to pick out at the sorting facility). As a result there is a large quantity of this material than can be bought and sold as a commodity (the whole supply-demand thing) to then be made into something else.

The other issue with recycling post-consumer plastics is that different cities/counties have different processing or sorting facilities. The presence (or absence) of a sorting facility will often dictate what can or cannot be accepted in your area and how it needs to be separated prior to collection. NYC will be able to accept all plastics in 2012 because that’s when a new sorting facility should be up and running.

While I’d love to recycle the yogurt containers, I can’t. I could put it in the recycle bin and let the sorting facility throw it away, but I still wouldn’t be able to put it in the recycle column of my trash diary. So, that is why I’m counting my yogurt containers as trash right now.


About Amy Marpman

Director of Recycling Services at Great Forest, Inc. in NYC. Continually finding the balance of idealism with the practical realities that make or break recycling programs.
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3 Responses to Why I didn’t recycle my plastic yogurt container

  1. stacey says:

    the park slope food coop recycles yogurt containers on certain saturdays. if you have a place to store them, you can drop them there every time you come to a sat. workshop. you don’t have to be a member to recycle them there. if you are interested, i will look into dates for you. let me know.

    • Amy Marpman says:

      One of the many things I miss about living in Park Slope! I didn’t know non-members could drop off – this is definitely something to consider. And since I’ll be in Brooklyn any way, I’ve really no excuse…

      The food coop takes #1 and #6 clear plastics, #5 plastic tubs, cups, lids and caps, and clear plastic film and bubble wrap. Drop off days/times are: 2nd Sat., 10 AM-2 PM; 3rd Thur., 7 PM-9 PM, Last Sun., 10 AM-2 PM.

  2. M says:

    You know, yogurt’s pretty easy to make. If your milk comes in reusable bottles or recyclable jugs, why not try it? Here’s a recipe: http://www.basicbento.com/2010/11/how-to-make-yogurt.html
    You do need a little prepared yogurt as starter, or you can buy starter at health-food stores or online.

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