Why something marked ‘recyclable’ sometimes isn’t…

Recycling Rules

Not everything with a recycling symbol can be recycled in your bin.

The iconic symbol of chasing arrows in a triangle and even the word “recyclable” displayed on a package doesn’t necessarily mean something can be recycled in your area. There’s a huge disconnect between what the packaging industry puts on the market as “recyclable” and what those in the recycling industry can actually accept.


While most items can technically be recycled, they need the right technology to sort them out, enough investment to cover the process, and an end-user willing and able to accept and process the material for reuse after it’s been collected. Individual recycling programs across the country have to make choices on what they can accept for recycling based on these three variables, which can change from community to community depending on distance and partnerships with end-users, global market prices, and other business factors. If a recycling facility cannot accept an item, the so-called recyclable ends up as a contaminant which can damage equipment, increase processing costs and decrease overall material value.


The Universal Recycling Symbol: 

The universal recycling symbol is used to tell consumers if a product or package is “recyclable” OR if it was made with recycled content, but there is some ambiguity about what’s allowed and what’s not. For example, baby food pouches are NOT recyclable in curbside programs, but the label states that it’s recyclable because you can mail used pouches to a company called Terracycle for recycling. If you don’t take the time to research where and how the pouches can actually be recycled, most people just assume they go in the bin – which they do not. The FTC has put out green guidelines to prevent deceptive labeling, but we’ve seen many different products using recycling symbols and statements that are misleading.

The Plastic Numbers:

These numbers, called RICs (Resin Identification Codes), were not created to tell the general public whether something is recyclable, only for processors to differentiate between types of plastic.  They can appear on packaging and products that are almost never recyclable. The RIC guidelines state that manufacturers must put them in an unnoticeable place on a package and not use them for saying something is recyclable, which is why they’re often small and hard to find. Many communities, like Sioux Falls, avoid talking about numbers at all to prevent confusion and only focus on the type of plastic containers that are accepted regardless of which number they have: Bottle, Tubs and Jugs. 


We are well aware of the confusion that recycling labeling causes and understand the frustration. To help you figure out what you can and can’t recycle, follow these steps:

  1. Look at your local guide. If the item in question is not on the YES list, it’s probably not recyclable in your area.
  2. Ask us or your hauler. If you’re not sure about something based on the guide, just ask!

At Millennium, we are happy to answer questions all day long through our facebook page and website contact form. We are here to help and want you to recycle everything you possibly can while avoiding what you can’t, saving us and your waste hauler time and money and making the entire process more efficient and beneficial for everyone.