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The City of Portland, Oregon

Sustainability at Work

Providing free tools and expertise to achieve your goals

Phone: 503-823-7037

Email: sustainabilityatwork@portlandoregon.gov

Can I recycle this? (Plastics edition)

You’re holding a plastic cup, hovering over the recycling bin, but doubting yourself. Does it go in recycling? Or maybe trash? 

Plastics are especially confusing when it comes to recycling. Here’s a run-down of what goes where and why:

Can I recycle these?
Plastic lids, cups, containers, straw and utensils

No. These plastics should not go in your regular recycling container.Plastics not allowed in city-wide recycling system

At work, and at home, the only plastics you should put in your recycling container are bottles, tubs (6oz or larger), buckets and jugs.
Plastics allowed in city-wide recycling system

Why?

Sometimes it’s because the items are too small (like lids), making them too hard to sort out from paper, cardboard and other recyclables.

Other times it’s because the global market for a particular type of plastic changes too frequently. Recycling only works if it makes financial sense for companies to buy the used plastics to turn into new plastics.

What about the numbers on the bottom of plastics?

1-7 Recycling number labels for plastics

Ignore the numbers. The numbers on the bottom of plastics are used by manufacturers to mark what the product is made of. They are not indicators of whether or not a plastic item is recyclable in Portland.

It's about size and shape. The allowed plastics – bottles, tubs, buckets and jugs – are the right shapes to get successfully sorted, and they’re the types of plastic that recycling companies want to buy.

What about plastics labeled “compostable” or “biodegradable?”

Never put plastics labeled “compostable” or “biodegradable” into any recycling container. These “plastics” are made to break down quickly and will contaminate the plastics recycling process and reduce the quality of goods produced from the recycled materials. (Also never put them in compost, at home or at work. They should go in the trash.)
"compostable" & biodegradable plastics

Order free posters for your workplace that show what goes into recycling, compost and trash.