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Mel's Mess: Recycling 1, 2 and 5

Plastics have been around as early as 3,500 years ago and were made naturally using the sap from gum trees. It wasn't until Alexander Parkes, inventor of celluloid and Leo Baekeland, inventor of Bakelite invented the modern day plastics that plastic production became popular. Unfortunately these plastics are made from fossil fuels. 

How is plastic made?

  1. Crude oil and natural gas which are non-renewable energy sources are extracted from the earth
  2. These fossil fuels are sent to refineries to convert into products - Ethane from Crude Oil and Propane from Natural Gas.
  3. Ethane and Propane is sent to a cracking factory to be cracked (aka broken down) into smaller molecules. This allows Ethane to produce Ethylene and Propane to become Propylene
  4. A catalyst is mixed in which links the molecules together and forms polymers called Resins. This allows the resin to be molded and shaped under heat and pressure.
  5. Polymerization converts Ethylene into the resin Polyethylene and Propylene into the resin Polypropylene 
  6. The resins are then melted, cooled down, chopped up and turn into preproduction plastic pellets known as nurdles. Nurdles can be used as nurdles or moulded into cups, boxes and other products. And we all know nurdles are the worst toxic waste on the planet!

Los Angeles Sanitation

LA Sanitation & Environment (LASAN) provides solid resources collection services to over 750,000 households and runs the largest curbside recycling program in the country! Collecting an average of 800 tons per day of recyclable materials, they are striving to meet the goals of the Green New Deal specific to Los Angeles. Launched by Mayor Eric Garcetti in April 2019, aggressive goals were set with regards to waste: achieving a zero waste future by 2050. One thing to keep in mind is that in Los Angeles County, only plastics 1, 2 and 5 can go into the blue bin and yet less than 10% of all single-use plastics are being recycled.

Blue Bin Reference Card

Recycling Contamination
Recycling contamination is when non-recyclable materials are placed in the blue recycling bin, preventing the entire collected load from being recycled properly. One of the easiest ways to prevent contamination is to ensure that all materials placed in the blue bin are clean and dry. That's why it's imperative to check the recycling resin codes. I recently bought two different brands of yoghurt and one could be recycled as it was PP 5, but the other could not as it was PS 6 (Polystyrene).

What's the difference between 1, 2 and 5?

PET ♻️ 1 (Polyethylene Terephthalate) is a clear, strong and lightweight plastic that is most often used for packaging foods, beverages and fibers for clothing. The main reason suppliers use PET is for its clarity. PET resin is light, damage resistant and easily shapeable, and greatly resemble glass in appearance. PET is a sustainable option since it is widely recyclable, making it appealing to image conscious sellers and buyers alike. PET can either be reprocessed into recycled plastic bottles and packaging or turned into fiber for the creation of textile products such as fleece garments and carpets.

HDPE ♻️ 2 (High Density Polyethylene) is one of the most popular materials used in manufacturing today. It is used to make many different types of products in its pure form, and is often recycled to make a composite material for manufacturing as well. HDPE is one of the most widely used thermoplastics. It would be selected over PP and PET if clarity, strength, and hot-fill ability were not as important. It also features a better chemical resistance and impact properties than PP, but not as good as PET. Recyclers often turn the recycled HDPE into plastic lumbers, bed liners and picnic tables.

Polypropylene ♻️ 5 (PP) provides a rigid package with an excellent moisture barrier. One major advantage of PP is its stability at high temperatures, up to 220 °F (104 °C). The compatibility of PP with high filling temperatures is responsible for its use with hot fill and retort fill products. PP, along with HDPE, has many more options for oxygen barrier, handle applications and colors when compared to PET. While PP provides contact clarity, it is not as glass-like in appearance as PET. Recycling programs turn recycled PP into clothes, playground equipment and ice scrapers. 

How Many Times Can The Same Plastic Be Recycled?

As mentioned previously, plastics are polymers, consisting of long chains of atoms, which provide strength, lightness, and flexibility. Each time plastic is recycled, its polymer chains shorten, reducing its quality. Typically, plastic can only be recycled 2-3 times before its quality deteriorates too much for further use. Additionally, recycled plastic often requires the addition of virgin material to maintain quality, highlighting the complexity behind labels like "recycled material."

What Can Be Done

  • Always practice the 4 R's: Reduce, reuse, recycle, recover
  • Find alternatives to plastic like a reusable water bottles, bamboo cutlery and tote bags (check out the Surfrider Foundation shop for a wide variety of options)
  • Support natural plastic initiatives that use bio-based plastics, such as compostable resins
  • Volunteer with Surfrider Foundation's Rise Above Plastics program. It is designed to eliminate the impacts of plastics in the marine environment by raising awareness about the dangers of plastic pollution and by advocating for a reduction of single-use plastics and the recycling of all plastics
  • Volunteer with Surfrider Foundation's Ocean Friendly Restaurants program. It recognizes restaurants that are committed to cutting out wasteful single-use plastic and offer a simple, straightforward framework to help them make sustainable choices for our ocean.
  • Surfrider LA is a founding member of the Reusable LA coalition that is working to advance upstream policies that shift our throwaway culture to one of reuse and refill economy.
  • In 2021, Lawmakers enacted SB 343 (Allen, Chapter 507, Statutes of 2021), which prohibits use of the chasing arrows or any other indicator of recyclability on products and packaging unless certain criteria are met. Although existing laws make it illegal to use deceptive labels on products, little credible information was available to define accurate and deceptive recycling labels. CalRecycle submitted its draft reports in December 2023. Please have a read. Submit your comments to
  • Reach out to your local representative to make the EPA's recommendation that the confusing recycling chasing arrows are replaced with something that makes sense and that the National Strategy to Prevent Plastic Pollution moves forward

Join me down this rabbit hole of research:


  • Brothers Make, 'How Many Times Can Plastic REALLY Be Recycled?'
  • National Geographic, 'Plastics 101'
  • PBS News Hour, 'The plastic industry knowingly pushed recycling myth for decades, new report finds'
  • TED-Ed, 'Confused about recycling? It’s not your fault'