RESILIENT RECYCLER: Clamshells?! But I don’t even eat Seafood!
In 2010 and 2012, Clark County audited household recycling carts and tagged carts that had contaminants in them. One resident called in after their cart was tagged for containing "clamshells" and he said, "How could there be clamshells in my recycling? I don't even eat seafood!"
Plastic clamshells are plastic containers with hinged lids. They're commonly used as take-out food containers or as packing containers for berries and produce. Most of these containers are marked as #1 PET plastics, but they are not the same as #1 PET bottles.
Have you ever tried to melt dark baking chocolate and milk chocolate chips together? If not, let me tell you, it turns into a sticky, lumpy, burnt mess. Because the different types of chocolate have different melting temperatures, they are difficult to melt into one continuous substance. Even if you manage to pour the melted concoction into molds, the different types of chocolate have different textures so half of your chocolate heart may collapse or melt in your hand faster than the rest. Plastics are the same way. If the substance doesn't have the same chemical make-up, they're going to have different melting points and a different durability or flexibility which makes it challenging to form them into a new product. So, plastics must be separated by type to be melted and remolded.
Some plastics are easier to process into new material—such as plastic #1 bottles, #2 plastic jugs, and #5 plastic tubs. These plastics have market that will buy and recycle these materials. But clamshells and other "hard" plastics that are brittle and crack when crushed are not as easy to process, or there is not enough quantity to be profitable.
When in doubt, check it out.
Not sure if it's recyclable? Visit RecyclingA-Z.com to find out how to properly dispose of your item!
Additionally, our Material Recovery Facility in Clark County sorts based on shape. Since many of these clamshells and hard plastics are shaped like the #5 tubs, the system cannot tell the difference, leaving recyclers who want to #5 plastic with a plastic sludge of #1 and #5 if they try to process it. But more likely, no one would buy a bale of mixed #1 and #5 plastics.
You can be sure that you are recycling plastics right if you follow these four rules:
Rule of Size: The object must be larger than your fist (6-oz yogurt container or larger). No plastic silverware. No lids or caps, unless they are screwed securely onto a bottle.
Rule of Shape: Only containers shaped like bottles, jugs, and tubs can be recycled in your mixed curbside recycling. Plastic bags and some films can be recycled separately at Safeway, Albertsons, or Fred Meyer. Find a location near you here.
Crush Test: Even if it looks like "tub," test it with the crush test. If you give it a stomp or smash and the plastic crinkles, splinters apart or cracks, it's not recyclable. If you stomp on it and it gets as flat as paper, do not recycle it because the sorting system will see "flat" and sort it into a paper bale. And we can't make plastic into paper.
When in Doubt, Keep it Out: It's better to throw something in the trash than to risk it contaminating the rest of the recycling. Unfortunately, our sorting system cannot catch every contaminant. Your efforts to recycle right help keep workers safe and keep our recycling clean so we can provide our markets with good quality material to make into new products.