Education and Outreach
VIdeo: What Happens to
Plastic Water Bottles?
Check out this video by
Many people ask CVWMA for clarification about recycling plastic
items. The curbside and drop-off programs accept
narrow-necked plastic bottles labeled with a number 1 or number 2
ONLY. This includes many soda and water bottles, milk and
juice jugs, and household cleaner bottles. Plastics with
other numbers or 1 and 2 plastics that are not bottles (like
margarine tubs) are not recyclable in this program.
How to tell the difference...
First, look for a "neck" area that separates the body of the
bottle from the place where the cap or lid twists or snaps
on. As a general rule, the mouth or opening of the
container must be narrower than the body.
Then, check the number on the bottom. Look for one of
the two symbols to the right. The symbol may be hard to
spot on a clear bottle.
If it has a "neck" and a 1 or 2 on the bottom, recycle
Note: Whole Foods
Market in Short Pump on West broad Street is a Gimme 5
drop center. They have a drop-off container located in their store
by the exit doors where the public can recycle #5
plastics, such as yogurt containers and margarine
tubs. You can also recycle plastic nursery
pots at selected garden centers such as Strange's - West
Broad and Mechanicsville locations, Boulevard Flowers in Colonial
Heights, and Cross Creek Nursery in Chesterfield. For a
complete list of participating
businesses visit the Virginia Cooperative Extension's VA Gardeners
Plastic Bag Recycling- CVWMA does not accept
plastic bags, only paper bags because plastic bags interfere with
the machinery at the MRF (sorting facility). However, many
local grocery stores have plastic bag recycling programs. Check
with your local
supermarket or visit abagslife.com
for availability. Better yet, take reusable cloth or
recycled plastic totes with you to the store so you can say
"neither" when asked if you want paper or plastic.
For more information on local plastic bag recycling options,
please contact Keep
Virginia Beautiful at (804) 803-1582 or by email at email@example.com
A Cool Whip tub and plastic bottle both have a 2 on the
bottom. Isn't this the same plastic?
Yes, it is the same family of plastics. But
the two forms have been slightly modified to achieve different
properties for strength, fluidity, crack resistance,
etc. Even when the plastic number is the
same, the manufacturing processes to
create those qualities make the two containers
incompatible. Some plastic containers, such as milk jugs
and laundry detergent bottles, are made in a process called
Other plastic containers, such as margarine tubs and sour cream
containers, are made in a process called
injection-molding. When resins
produced by different processes are mixed together, the resulting
product is no longer appropriate for use in either manufacturing
In the blow-molding process the plastic must be thick and tacky,
whereas in the injection-molding process the plastic must be thin
Injection-mold grade plastics have a high melt flow index,
meaning the liquid plastic moves fast to quickly fill a
mold. For this reason, injection-mold grade is preferred
for wide-mouth containers, also for objects with complicated shapes
(e.g., toys). The mold (die) for an injection-molded item
has many orifices allowing the runny plastic to be forced into the
mold through many holes to fill the mold quickly.
Blow-mold grade plastics flow slowly by
comparison. Key characteristics of blow-mold
grade are stiffness and strength. Blow-mold can literally
be blown up like a balloon and will resist the pull of
gravity. This allows the "balloon" to be blown up inside
the mold, through a single orifice, and because the resin holds its
shape, it will expand out to fill the dimensions/form of the
mold. Also, the finished product is stronger (better
crack resistant, less chance of pinhole failure, etc) than an
injection-molded item. Blow-molding is suited for making
bottles due to their narrow-neck shape, and specialized molding
systems make it efficient.
Blow-mold grade bottles are also strong for heavy loads, such as
a gallon of some liquid. Many injection-molded containers
are for lightweight products (butter, Cool Whip, etc) or
toys and tend to be weak and break easily.
Plastics with a number 1 or 2 on the bottom make up 70 percent
of the market of plastic bottles and are increasing every
day. The strength of this demand makes collection
possible. If municipal programs collected materials
without manufacturer demand, the materials would sit in a
warehouse. The manufacturing aspect of the "cycle" is just as
important as the collection part.
In our region, we only have markets for the bottle form of HDPE
(#2) and PET (#1) plastic. For that reason, we
can only accept blow-molded (bottles with necks)
and not injection-molded material (tubs
and cups). We accept #1 and
#2 plastics in the bottle or "necked" form only. The
"tub" form used in many sour cream, butter or yogurt containers is
Markets for plastic containers are challenging for the following
1) Many applications for plastic involve direct contact with
food. Plastic containers are used for many
household industrial chemicals, such as laundry or dish
detergent. These kinds of plastics cannot be recycled
into food-grade containers.
2) Other applications for plastics require brilliant pure
colors. When plastics of many different
pigments, plus the inks on packaging, are mixed together, the
result is a dull army green. It's very difficult to
convert this color to something pretty. Plastic recyclers
add carbon black and make black products (such as car parts) where
specific colors are not required.
If landfilling plastics numbered 3 through 7 concerns you, make
choices to purchase recyclable packaging or find other ways to
reuse nonrecyclable packaging. Use them to store
leftovers or small items or donate them to a school for use by the
art department. You may also wish to contact the
manufacturers of products packaged in nonrecyclable materials to
encourage them to look into more recyclable packaging.
Additional questions about plastics:
Why are the plastic bottle tops not recyclable?
We ask that you remove and discard in the trash the lids and
caps of plastic bottles. Plastic bottle lids are made
from a different type of plastic than the bottle because they need
to posses different qualities than the bottle. The two
cannot be mixed together or the resulting product will have neither
of the desired qualities of the original products.
Why don't you accept plastic bags?
We do not collect plastic bags because they will jam the
equipment at our processing facility. Plastic bags are
collected at many grocery stores, but these are not CVWMA
programs. Because of the nuisance plastic bags
cause our community when they become litter and blow around, we
recommend reusable bags, whether they are canvas or
paper. Canvas bags can be reused for years, so they are
the optimal choice. Paper bags come from a renewable
resource (trees) and if the handles break or they tear, they can be
recycled in CVWMA's curbside or drop-off recycling
programs! In addition, many grocery stores offer a 5 cent
credit for each reusable bag that you bring for your