By UW Recycling | Jun 28, 2019
throwing plastic clamshell in recycle bin

So much of the material we handle on a daily basis is made of plastic. Let’s delve into some common questions about the puzzling predicament of perplexing plastic packaging products! You can also learn more at the Sustainability Film Series at the UW Tower Auditorium on Thursday, July 11. Watch the short films "Plastic Bag" and "The Plastic Problem," followed by a discussion with UW Recycling' Liz Gignilliat and Holly Griffith on plastic pollution.

What does the number in the chasing arrow symbol mean?

Understandably, many people often think that the chasing arrow symbol on a plastic item means that the product is recyclable. However, that’s not always the case. The symbol and the number inside it is called a “resin identification code,” which tells the consumers what kind of plastic was used to make the product. The resin identification code was made in 1988 to help consumers to identify and sort recyclable plastics - back then there were a lot fewer shapes and types of plastic than there are now! Now the number doesn’t give us enough information on if an item can be sorted or recycled effectively due to plastic manufacturing developments so in the City of Seattle, we ignore the number altogether!

How do I properly recycle plastic on the University of Washington campus?

Focus on the shape of the product you are about to throw away! Non-compostable plastic products shaped like bottles, tubs, jugs, and cups can safely go into the recycling bin. Non-compostable plastic clamshells are also allowed in the recycling. Some lids can be recycled, but…

Don’t sweat the small stuff!

anything that is smaller than three inches (about the size of your index finger) should go into the garbage. Plastic or metal items that are too small can be mistaken as broken glass during the sorting process and contaminate the recyclables. Also…

Keep it clean!

It is important to make sure recyclables are clean, empty, and dry! When the recyclables are food soiled or wet, they will contaminate the rest of the recyclables and reduce the quality or recyclability of the materials. You don’t have to get items clean enough to store food or eat from, just clean enough that liquids or food isn’t getting all over the place - it shouldn’t take much water or time to rinse it or wipe it off before tossing.   

What about plastic film?

bagged plastic filmPlastic film is also recyclable on campus, just be sure to bag it all together before you put it in the bin! Please also keep in mind that if it is wet or has been in contact with food items (like produce bags or bread packaging), it cannot be recycled. Accepted plastic film includes clean plastic grocery bags, bubble wrap, dry cleaner bags, deflated air pillows, and shrink wrap.

  1. Accumulate as much clean plastic film as possible
  2. Bag it altogether in a clear plastic bag & tie off the bag
  3. Place bag inside the plastic film cart at your building’s service area or in a mixed recycling bin

You can also request a self-service box to collect plastic film from UW Recycling at no cost.

3 Simple Ways to Avoid Plastic

  1. Buy second-hand products to avoid packaging: Instead of buying new products, try shopping at UW Surplus or thrift stores like Goodwill. Did you know that when you buy second-hand clothes, you’re also preventing plastic microfiber pollution in our water? You can purchase clean and affordable items while reducing waste at the same time!
  2. Reusable mugs, bottles, and straws - oh my!: Production, transportation, and recycling of bottles and cups takes up a large amount of energy. What’s better than recycling plastic is not to consume them in the first place - and, at UW HFS Cafés, you can even get a discount when you bring your own mug!
  3. Shop in bulk: Use reusable containers like jars to buy peanut butter, spices or rice from your grocery store – one more way to reduce waste and save money!