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[GreenYes] good questions on plastics recycling (there's no such thing as plastic)

No such thing as plastics?  Are you serious that most recycling professionals no longer use this moniker?
What is the practical value to the recycling industry of using the word 'polymer' instead of 'plastic' to identify this group of synthetic, petroleum based materials?  Since plastics are a subset of polymers, why expand the universe of materials to which we refer by using the word polymers?  Wouldn't this add to the confusion?  I think the words can be used interchangeably in a recycling context but 'plastic' is a more universally recognized and understood term, chiefly because the petro-chemical industry has a long tradition of marketing these materials under the name of 'plastics' and consumers and industry have bought into it.  Industry professionals certainly do understand the subclass of plastic 'resins' but I think it's lost on most consumers, the SPI coding system notwithstanding.

PS:  Polymers can refer to any protein synthesized in cellular activity, not just the cell walls.  (There's my word-parsing for the day!) 

Wayne Turner
Assistant Solid Waste Administrator
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Utilities
phone: (336) 727 8418
fax: (336) 727-8432
email: waynet@no.address

>>> Dan Knapp <dr.ore@no.address> 9/4/2007 5:49 PM >>>
Several years ago, I came to the same conclusion as David Biddle and stopped using the word "plastics" to refer to that particular commodity in all its complex forms and subsets. Since then I've called this class of discards "polymers," because that's what they are: long carbon-based chains of repeating and interlocking molecular forms. Polymers differ greatly in characteristics such as look and feel, use, and biodegradability. Plastics are a subset of polymers.

This nomenclature works for me.

And I know that cellwalls are polymers, etc., but hey, you gotta stop parsing words somewhere.

Or maybe not.

Dan Knapp
Urban Ore, Inc.
A Berkeley reuse and recycling business since 1980
On Sep 4, 2007, at 10:20 AM, David Biddle wrote:

Mike's suggestions for resources are the best. I would caution, as most recycling professionals do, that there really is no such thing as "plastic." Plastics is a catch-all phrase for dozens of different petroleum-based resins. Each type has an entire economics and societal use and recycling application. PET and HDPE are the obvious resins to look at. PET seems to be particularly important these days since there's been such an increase in consumption and discarding of single-use water bottles. Along these lines, talking to end-users is paramount -- NAPCOR's membership list is a place to start:

Also, Wellman, Inc. at

Obviously, there are a lot of packaging companies you can contact and packaging industry trade groups.

Hope this helps.
David Biddle, Executive Director
Greater Philadelphia Commercial Recycling Council
P.O. Box 4037
Philadelphia, PA 19118

215-247-3090 (desk)
215-432-8225 (cell)


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on 9/4/07 10:50 AM, Mike at giuranna.mike@no.address wrote:

Brenda, Joelle, I'd suggest checking out EPA Solid Waste
Characterization report, see
specifically pages 47-51 which have some of the plastics recycling
numbers you're asking about. You should be able to get additional
information from Resource Recycling's "Plastics Recytcling Update",
You could also try contacting the association of Post Consumer
Plastics recycling at or NAPCOR ofr
PET information, see

On Aug 31, 6:27 pm, "Brenda Platt" <bpl...@no.address> wrote:
> Hi all,
> The email below from Joelle Novey at Co-Op America poses some excellent
> questions concerning recycling plastics. Does anyone have data on this?
> either from a national perspective or from their local/state perspective?
> I'm very interested in this issue too, so please email Joelle and me
> directly on this. Joelle is not on the listserv.
> Thanks in advance.
> Brenda
> --
> Brenda Platt
> Institute for Local Self-Reliance
> 927 15th Street, NW, 4th Fl
> Washington, DC 20005
> 202-898-1610 ext.
> *********************
> Brenda,
> I'm writing at the suggestion of Ann Leonard over at the Environmental
> Grantmakers. I'm writing from the publications department at Co-op
> America, where we're doing research for the next issue of the Co-op
> America Quarterly about waste and recycling issues.
> I'm hoping you can help because I'm having quite a hard time coming by
> any reliable numbers about what happens nationally to the plastics
> Americans "recycle."
> I would like to be able to tell our readers:
> 1. what percentage of the plastics in their recycling bins get rejected
> by the MRFs and are ultimately sent to a US landfill or incinerator.
> 2. Then, of those plastics recovered by the MRF and sold for
> "recycling," what percentage are shipped overseas? (To what countries?)
> 3. And then, of those that are sent to other countries, what percentages
> of these items are ultimately recycled into some other useful product
> rather than dumped?
> 4. If the numbers are very different for different grades of plastics,
> I'd be interested in those numbers too.
> I would really like to be able to tell our members what is happening to
> the plastics in their recycling bins -- where are these things going,
> and what is being done with them? Can you recommend any reputable
> resources that have looked at this in a systematic way? I'll look
> forward to hearing from you!
> In cooperation,
> Joelle G. Novey, Editorial Associate
> joe...@no.address
> Co-op America: Economic Action for a Just Planet
> 1612 K St NW Washington DC 20006

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