Tips on knowing what to recycle

We are always told new and confusing information about how to recycle, but media messages also tell us that it is the consumer’s responsibility to do it correctly. Many tons of seemingly recyclable material are sent to the landfill each year. So what exactly is so hard about recycling?

While the classic “chasing arrows” symbol we all know and love is commonly referred to as a symbol for the recyclability of a product, it doesn’t actually mean much, since there is not a lot of regulation around it. Instead, pay attention to the numbers that are on the inside of the symbol, which may tell you something about the type of plastic the product is made from. Here’s what a few of them mean:

  • Plastic 1: Peanut butter jars, plastic water bottles, salad dressing bottles
  • Plastic 2: milk jugs, laundry detergent bottles, butter containers
  • Plastic 3: oil and shampoo bottles, window cleaner spray bottles
  • Plastic 4: condiment squeeze bottles, shrink wrap, some plastic bags
  • Plastic 5: Ketchup, syrup, and medicine bottles
  • Plastic 6: packing foam, takeout containers, disposable plates and utensils, egg cartons
  • Plastic 7: miscellaneous items that usually aren’t accepted by most recycling facilities

(Learn more about the types of plastics here)

The most commonly accepted plastic products at recycling centers are #1 and #2, but recycling companies have been working to take more products with #5.

A very low amount of plastic is recycled; only two types of plastics have a good chance of actually being accepted for recycling. While there is a need for policy action regarding producer responsibility in recycling and other waste management, you can increase the chances that your plastic products stay out of the landfills by checking the county-specific regulations and familiarizing yourself with the different numbers on your products. Play this quick sorting game by the New York Times. Monroe County has a helpful guide in determining what you can recycle locally.


Written by Carmen Marshall ‘25

Photo by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash