Should I leave the cap on my plastic bottle? Should I separate my recyclables? Can I recycle my plastic tub? These are commonly asked questions that may have different answers depending on where you live. The MPCA conducted a survey to better understand how curbside recycling programs are structured statewide.
Minnesota has a diverse network of recycling collection programs. In the summer of 2012, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency surveyed city and county recycling coordinators on residential curbside programs, seeking details on what is collected and how it is collected, with an emphasis on types of plastics.
Note: The survey did not address the quantity of the recyclables collected, the costs for managing the materials, or the potential end markets for material collected in Minnesota.
Minnesota communities offer two types of services for curbside collection of recyclables:
- City contract service: A city may contract with a private recycling hauler or, in a few instances, use city staff to collect recyclables.
- Subscription service: Multiple haulers operate in a city and the resident contracts for service from the private hauler.
Based on the survey, a majority of cities offer city service contracts. Under the subscription service varying haulers have different instructions for sorting and collecting of recyclables.
Both city contract service and subscription service collect recyclables in one of three ways:
- Single-stream: All recyclables are placed in one container and no further sorting by the resident is necessary.
- Dual-stream: Residents sort recyclables into two categories, usually "fiber" (paper & cardboard) and containers (bottles & cans).
- Source-separated: Residents separate recyclables into three or more groups (cans, glass, newspaper, mail & magazines, plastic bottles, etc.).
The most prominent collection method is single-stream recycling.
Note: Because subscription service systems are comprised of multiple haulers that frequently have different sorting guidelines and collect different materials much of the report focused on cities that provide recycling through a city service contract.
Plastic is a diverse category of materials. More than 93 percent of the communities use the resin identification code to educate residents about what plastics to recycle. Survey responses indicate there are nine systems used to sort plastics:
- #1 Bottles & Containers Only
- #1 & #2 Bottles Only
- #1 Bottles & Containers, #2 Bottles Only
- #1& #2 All container/bottle types
- #1-#5 (with exceptions)
- #1-#6 (with exceptions)
- #1-#7 (with exceptions)
Most members of the public are likely exposed to several of the different collection systems; meaning recycling collection guidelines for their home probably differ from the guidelines they are expected to follow when they go to work, visit friends or family, or move to a new community.
Resin Identification Code (RIC):
Labeling plastics appropriately for recycling is a substantial challenge. The resin identification code (RIC) system was developed by the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) in 1988 as a broad characterization of the type of material used to create an item and was not intended to indicate the recyclability of an item.
Currently, there are seven resin identification codes; within each resin there are a variety of types of plastic that may not be compatible with one another for recycling purposes. For example, a #1 plastic bottle may melt at a different temperature than a #1 cup. This can cause confusion for consumers who interpret the chasing arrows as an indicator of recyclability.
Most cities in Minnesota use the resin identification code when educating the public about which plastics they collect. However, many programs also use additional descriptions and photos or illustrations to assist residents with understanding which plastics are collected.
In February 2013, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), which governs the RIC, revised the standard that includes changing the chasing arrow symbol to a solid triangle. The symbol change will likely not be immediately implemented since some states reference the chasing arrows symbol in statute.