Most manufacturers place recycling codes on their plastic containers. These numbers correspond to resins that the industry recognizes. The different types of plastics offer different properties that help create various products and packaging. The recycling issue is that the presence of a recycling code does not mean it can or will be recycled! What’s recyclable depends on who locally can and will recycle it. For most communities this means only #1 and #2 coded products are recyclable.

Avoid plastic foam completely. Polystyrene is non-biodegradable, and many kinds still contain ozone damaging chlorofluorocarbons.

What Consumers Can Do

Evaluating Grocery Products
When purchasing groceries, the following list is helpful to review when making green choices. One of the most important points consumers need to remember, if the recyclable material is not recyclable in the local area, think twice about the purchase and look for alternatives. Before purchasing a product at the grocery store, make a precycling decision. Find out before purchasing how recyclable the product really is. See the chart on this page.

Many products at the grocery store, especially cleaning products, are labeled biodegradable or environmentally safe. Consumers need to be aware that claims of biodegradability often are not backed up by independent research. Even then, biodegradability is difficult to prove because there are no official standards for biodegradability.

Biodegradation is nature’s way of returning materials to soil, sand, and other natural earth elements. The classic, generic definition of biodegradability is “a substance that when introduced into the environment breaks down into elements or compounds that harmlessly disintegrate.” However, the term has been grossly misused; there is no legal definition of biodegradable. As a result, anyone who wants to call something “biodegradable” or “degradable” can do so and not be breaking any law. In addition, nearly everything can be considered biodegradable - including plutonium and uranium, which break down over tens of thousands of years.

Plastic products labeled biodegradable actually contain 5-10% more plastic than traditional versions. This is done to maintain the strength necessary for bags; it compensates for the poorer bonding abilities of the natural additives. Thus, it is best to avoid using plastic; if that is not possible, stick with the traditional nondegradable type.

Biodegradability is determined by what happens to a product when it ends up in a landfill. When something is thrown away, it may be incinerated or buried in a landfill. Environmental scientists who have studied modern landfills doubt that much of anything can degrade in them given their lack of light, water, and bacterial activity, which are the necessary elements for natural degradation. Interestingly, researchers have found thirty-year-old hot dogs in landfills that have mummified instead of decomposed!

What to look for
Positives Negatives
refillable containers single use containers
reusable container single use containers
returnable bottles nonreturnable containers
large-sized packages excessive packaging
concentrated products reconstituted liquids
bulk foods single-serving packages
loose produce plastic produce bag
your own re-usable grocery bad paper or plastic grocery bag
recycled content in packaging no recycled content in package
recyclable in local area non-recyclable materials

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