You’ve received your Green Chef box, savored your responsibly sourced, grass-fed sirloin steak with chimichurri sauce, and now you’re staring at the empty packaging strewn across your kitchen counter. The cardboard box, paper bags, and plastic jars are easy enough to chuck into your curbside recycling bin, but what about the plastic bags? The ice packs?
In fact, plastic packaging makes up 40% of the plastic we use in our daily lives, and a surprising amount of it is recyclable. “Most plastic wrap has a second life,” says Green Chef Director of Sustainability Jeff Yorzyk. “I think a lot of us assume it’s just trash, when it really does have another direction it can go.” We sat down with Jeff to get the skinny on recycling plastic wrap. Find out the dos and don’ts below:
Which plastic films are recyclable and which aren’t?
Most packaging and plastic bags are made up of recyclable #2 (high-density polyethylene) or #4 (low-density polyethylene) plastics. Grocery bags, Ziploc or sandwich bags, clingwrap, disposable dry cleaning bags, even the shrink wrap around cases of bottled water are recyclable.
The plastic you find wrapped around your chicken breast, however, is probably not recyclable. These plastic wraps were made with multilayered plastics to form that extra barrier to keep your meat fresh and uncontaminated. Our general rule of thumb is if it has come in contact with meat, your best bet is to just throw it away.
Give it the Stretch Test
Jeff recommends giving it the Stretch Test to find out if it’s recyclable. “If you can stretch it between your fingers or it gets kind of ribbony when it tears, it’s probably recyclable,” he says. “‘Stretch’ can be a relative term, it doesn’t need a lot of stretch. Sometimes you just leave a dent with your fingertip. Shrink wrap is where it gets weird, because you can have shrink wrap that will only tear and won’t stretch. If it won’t stretch at all, you probably can’t recycle it.”
How do you recycle it?
Plastic film (like Green Chef packets) has to go an entirely different route than your usual curbside recycling. It wreaks havoc on the machinery in single-stream processing centers. “We actually went to a recycling facility here in Boulder, CO where they take single-stream recycling and separate it all out. On every break they were actually getting into one of the machines while it was turned off and cutting out the plastic film with knives,” recalls Jeff.
The good news is, most big-box stores and grocery stores such as Target, WalMart, and Safeway participate in a nationwide plastic recycling program. Recycling your plastic can be as easy as a quick drop-off while running errands. To find a list of participating locations near you, go to plasticfilmrecycling.org and enter your zip code. The drop-off is usually at the front of the store, or even right in the entryway!
Tip: Make sure it’s clean and dry when you drop it off. If the plastic contained food, wiping it down with a sponge and air drying it should get rid of most food residue.
And that’s it, you’re a pro-recycler! So what happens to this stuff anyway? Surprisingly, most plastic film that is recycled here in the U.S. becomes composite decking. “There’s a nice, circular story there,” says Jeff. “You drop this stuff off at your supermarket and essentially it can come back to you in the form of synthetic wood that you can build your deck out of in your backyard.”
Visit Green Chef’s Packaging page for more.
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