Recycled plastics: What Goes Where and How

An article featuring us this Sunday in the local paper…

Greensboro News & Record  | Posted: Sunday, March 23, 2014 1:15 pm          

By Mary McClellan

Ah, plastics. We meet again.

To some, figuring out which plastics to recycle is more confusing than filling out a tax return. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

What really happens to Greensboro’s plastic bottles?

ReCommunity Greensboro, the city’s recycling processor, sorts plastics into several categories. Each is baled and sent to different reprocessing facilities. Any plastic container, no matter what it becomes later, first must be chopped into pieces, called flake. The flake is then sent through a sterilization and decontamination process that uses water flotation to remove pathogens, food waste and other objects.

The flake is dried and a special fan removes the tiny pieces of label that are mixed with the flake. What’s left is clean plastic, ready to be melted and reformed into new products.

After cleaning, what happens next varies. As the different numbers on plastic containers would suggest, there are chemical differences in plastics. The number on the bottom, called a Resin Identification Code, is an industry standard that tells manufacturers the chemical make-up of the plastic. Each number represents one of seven code categories.

Those seven resin codes can rarely, if ever, be intermixed to make products. A plastics expert once advised me to look at plastics like making pancakes and biscuits. Pancakes and biscuits have the same ingredients: Bisquick and water (sorry, the analogy doesn’t work with a made-from-scratch recipe). But each contains different amounts of those ingredients, which create very different dishes.

So, if you wanted to make biscuits, but you added the pancake mix, would you get a “biscake”? Nope. You’d get a mess. It’s the same with plastic.

Try to make No. 1 plastic with some No. 5 mixed in, or No. 2 with a pinch of No. 6, and you’ll get nothing you can use — and possibly a fire. In fact, there are even variations in the make-up of plastics within the same numerical classification that cannot be mixed, either (a No. 1 take-out box versus a No. 1 bottle, for instance). To borrow the wise words of an inexplicably popular song from the 1990s, “You gotta keep ’em separated.”

If you’re still thinking, “My bottles will just end up in the landfill anyway,” think again. If you’ve ever shopped at virtually any store here, you’ve probably come across a product made from remanufactured Greensboro plastic.

Greensboro’s No. 1 plastics (PETE, or polyethelyne terephthalate, which I can’t pronounce, either) such as soda, juice and water bottles, are sold to Mohawk Industries and Shaw Industries, which melt and spin the PETE into fibers to weave into carpeting. You’ll see these recycled carpet lines for sale at Lowes, Home Depot and other major carpet distributors.

Envision Plastics, housed in nearby Reidsville, remanufactures our No. 2 plastic (HDPE, or high-density polyethylene) into recycled-content resin, essentially turning it back into raw material.

What’s cool about Envision is the optical color-sorting technology used to create specific resin colors from the random mix of flake that runs through its system. Brands such as Downy, Tide and Method use Envision’s pre-colored resin to make their bottles and jugs (bypassing the plastic dying process). Envision also supplies plastic resin to the popular Green Toys line, sold by Amazon and Target and Toys and Co. in Greensboro.

The remainder of the city’s plastics, No. 3-No. 7 containers and bulky, rigid plastic, comprise a pretty small portion (10 percent or less). ReCommunity sells bales of No. 3-7 plastic to a re-processor, where they are broken open, further sorted, re-baled and sold again. It’s difficult to know exactly what each of these plastics is made into, but the products include batteries, plastic dock floats and even fuels.

These plastics have little value on the market, partly because they are lightweight, inconsistent and generated in low volumes by municipal recycling programs. But there’s hope that more uses for them will develop in the future, particularly in the energy arena.

The next time you meet a plastic you’re not sure about, just take a deep breath and use this simple rule: If it’s a hard plastic container, recycle it. And if you’re ever in doubt, call the city at 373-2489.

As for whether obsessing over numbers on the bottom of a shampoo bottle is worth it? The city earns close to $1 million a year from the sale of recyclables and avoids spending another $1 million in landfill tipping fees.

As with anything else, knowledge is the key to making the best choices.

Mary McClellan ( is recycling program coordinator, ReCommunity Recycling (


Thanks Method and Envision Plastics for the Trawl Sponsor


NAG Expedition Crew

Method Home Products is a San Francisco-based company that produces mindful and ecofriendly home cleaning products. Envision Plastics is a creative leader in the reprocessing of recycled plastics. Together the companies created the world’s first plastic bottle out of recycled marine plastic pollution, collected from the North Pacific Gyre, called “Ocean Post Consumer Recycled Plastic.” One purpose of the ocean bottle was to raise awareness with hope that consumers will think about the marine issues related to single use plastics.

Like the bottle, our voyages push those participating (and living vicariously) to think about their personal single use plastic footprint. The voyages also facilitate change makers to discuss solutions while on board the research vessel. Each crew member leaves the voyage with a plethora of information and experiences to bring back to their community with the intension to inspire companies and individuals to reduce their single use plastic footprint.


 Micro plastic pollution typically found in the North Atlantic Gyre sample.

We were honored to have Method and Envision, two leaders in the field, involved in our expedition through sponsorship of one of the 16 scientific trawls that we collected. Each of the 16 trawls that we collected were plastic positive and will help us better understand plastic pollution in North Atlantic Gyre. Micro plastics dominated the samples, as usual, and we hope to raise awareness on the North Atlantic “Garbage Patch” with our research, amazing crew, and sponsors.

Next time, we’d love to bring some of the Method and Envision crew on board with us. Maybe someday soon we can make a North Atlantic Gyre bottle? This way we can emphasize that plastic pollution exists in all of the world’s five gyres.

method_logo_bottles (3)envision logo

Thanks Method and Envision Plastics for the support

How A Company Recycles Ocean Plastic Twice The Size Of Texas

Posted on Forbes online today, Envision is once again mentioned for its collaboration with Method, to produce a resin recycled

Ocean Plastic bottle


from plastic collected from the North Pacific Garbage Gyre.  Whole Foods will sell Method’s hand and dish soap product line, packaged in bottles made from 100% recycled plastic.  The recycled plastic used in the packaging will include at least 10% ocean plastic from the Pacific Ocean.  Read the entire article by Lisa Wirthman @


Method, an innovative eco-friendly cleaning product company has recently launched a new bottle made, in part, from recovered marine litter. Method has partnered with Envision Plastics in this project that aims to raise awareness of the importance of actively looking for new avenues to tackle environmental probelms and finding new alternatives to using virgin materials. Click on the link below for more information.


Method Introduces Product Line with Packaging Made from Ocean Plastic

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October 15, 2012

Environmentally-conscious cleaning product company Method announced it is launching its latest solution in sustainable packaging bottles made from a blend of plastic recovered from the ocean and post-consumer recycled plastic.

According to a release, this limited edition packaging is for a new Method product, a two-in-one hand and dish soap, available at Whole Foods Market stores nationwide.

Method said scientists estimate that several million tons of plastic make its way into the oceans every year, polluting the environment and hurting marine populations. Through this new use of recovered ocean plastic, Method is demonstrating how a business can tackle environmental problems, and that there are smarter ways to make plastic than using virgin material. Nearly all of Method’s packaging is made from post-consumer recycled material, which helps keep additional plastic out of landfills and oceans.

Over the past year and a half, Method employees have worked with local volunteers from Sustainable Coastlines Hawai’i and the Kokua Hawai’i Foundation to hand-collect several tons of plastic from the beaches of Hawai’i, where the kinds of rigid, opaque plastic needed to make this packaging are most abundant. A portion of the product’s proceeds will go to these two Hawaiian organizations as part of Method’s efforts to establish an ongoing business model and supply chain for collecting and sorting plastic marine debris.

Method noted that it partnered with recycler Envision Plastics to develop a new recycling process to make the bottles. The process allows plastics recovered from the ocean to be cleaned, blended, and then remanufactured into recycled plastic that is the same quality as virgin high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic.

“Our goal with ocean plastic packaging is to show that the most viable solution to our plastic pollution problem is using the plastic that’s already on the planet. Method’s ocean plastic bottle demonstrates in the extreme that recycling is possible. By recycling and reusing plastic to make our bottles, we turn off the tap of plastic flowing into our oceans and take the first, most important step toward solving the ocean plastic problem,” said Adam Lowry, co-founder and chief greenskeeper of Method.

“Method is really demonstrating how smart business initiatives can make a big impact for our planet. We’re proud be partnering with them to raise awareness around this global issue and showcase new ways to use and reuse the plastics that are already on our earth,” said Errol Schweizer, executive global grocery coordinator for Whole Foods Market.

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