Yes and no! Plastic utensils are made of different types of plastic, some of which may be recyclable while others may not.
Simply put, you don’t have a way to ascertain which material is used to make a particle item.
Resultantly, you cannot simply toss plastic utensils into the recycling bin.
Apart from that, there are other variables that factor into the recyclability of plastic utensils, such as the shape of items and the recycling facility.
What Types of Plastic is Recyclable?
In order to figure out if you can recycle a plastic utensil, you need to know which plastic resin has been used to make it. Doing so is not easy.
On top of that, you cannot do much if you don’t know the types of plastic and which of those can be recycled.
In the world of recycling, plastic is assigned numbers from 1 to 7.
Out of all those, 1, 2, and 5 are recyclable, and the rest aren’t.
- Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) – plastic trays and water bottles
- High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) – shampoo bottles and milk cartons
- Polypropylene (PP) – ready-meal trays and margarine tubs
PET, HDPE, and PP are generally accepted for recycling at pretty much every facility. This means if the utensils you have are made of said plastic types, you can chuck them into the curbside recycling bin.
However, as mentioned earlier, most plastic utensils come without numbers because they are generally packed in transparent bags or pouches.
Without the knowledge of whether an item contains polyethylene terephthalate, high-density polyethylene, or polypropylene, you cannot send it for recycling.
Besides the three plastic types, these are the rest forms, which are usually not recyclable
3. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) – piping
4. Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE) – food bags
6. Polystyrene (PS) – plastic cutlery
While PVC, LDPE, and PS plastics are not recycled, some advanced facilities may accept them for recycling.
To figure that out, you will have to either visit a nearby recycling plant or look up a facility that accepts all plastics.
If you find a place that accepts all forms of plastic, you can send off your plastic utensils there for recycling.
However, there’s more to that story.
Also read: Paper Plates vs. Washing Dishes
The Shape of Plastic Utensil
Plastic cutlery has petite shapes that generally pose a problem in recycling it. Plastic forks, spoons, and knives can break inside the recycling machine and jam the system.
In some cases, they may even contaminate all other recyclables around them.
Moreover, plastic utensils are super light, which is why they can be easily confused for something else, such as paper. And that happens more often than you think.
Recycling machines quite frequently mistake plastic cutlery for paper. As a result, the two are processed together, and that only causes contamination of other recyclables.
Material Recovery Facilities or MRFs are responsible for sorting items to send them off for disposal. The procedure followed to do that involves sorting articles based on materials, packaging, and shipment.
When items are packaged together, they are typically collapsed into a mulch of sorts. But doing so is not possible with plastic utensils.
Common collapsible articles found in MRFs include aluminum cans, plastic bottles, and newspapers.
If plastic forks, spoons, or knives are tried to crumpled, they will only break and turn into tiny litters. The resulting bits will only increase the chances of jamming the recycling machine.
On top of that, plastic cutlery is considered a source of contamination at Material Recovery Facilities.
In sum, plastic utensils cannot be sorted and treated as other recyclables, which is why sending them off for recycling remains challenging.
Exporting Plastic Utensils for Recycling
One theory regarding plastic recycling is that all rigid plastics, the likes of which are used in spoons, forks, and knives, are shipped off to China for recycling.
Only the softer types remain in the United States of America to be recycled locally.
But it is suspected that China is gearing to ban the entry of rigid plastics into the country. This means domestic plants will have to step up to accommodate the tons of plastic they currently don’t.
Can Plastic Cutlery Be Used As Compost?
The latest development in the world of plastic disposal is the used and recycling of plant-based plastic, which can be dumped into the soil as compost.
However, whether that’s possible or not remains a question. Plastic is universally accepted as a non-compostable material as microorganisms cannot decompose it; hence, it cannot be used to enrich the soil.
Research is currently underway to determine if ‘plant-based plastic’ can be broken down.
The inconclusive findings suggest that plastic cannot be broken down even at super high temperatures unless it’s thermoplastic like polystyrene.
Reusing Plastic Cutlery: A Wise Choice OR Not?
Many people assume that plastic forks, knives, spoons, and other similar products can be reused until they are completely deformed and unusable.
But reusing plastic utensils and cutlery is not a healthy option.
Firstly, plastic utensils are non-biodegradable, so they shouldn’t be used more than once as that could be harmful.
On top of that, washing such articles can cause them to warp and become deformed, forming nooks for bacterial growth.
When plastic utensils curl up from the edges due to rinsing, they start holding food bits. After a while, these residual particles become stale and a breeding ground for microbes.
Naturally, if you continue using such contaminated pieces of cutlery, you can ingest harmful bacteria.
Moreover, according to a food science professor at the University of Wisconsin, Barbara Ingham, washing plastic degrades it.
That means every time you wash your plastic utensils to reuse them; you make them less suitable for usage.
Long story short, plastic cutlery is made for one-time use only, and it should stay that way. If you want to reuse silverware, use reusable varieties, such as actual silverware.
Doing so may seem a hassle, but if you keep aside a few old forks, spoons, and knives, you can take them out every time you go somewhere and need to consume food.
That way, you will have a set of silverware for rough use and will not have to bring out your fancy cutlery.
Is Plastic Biodegradable?
As we have already touched upon the issue earlier, plastic is non-biodegradable, meaning it doesn’t break down into a molecular state. As a result, it stays in the environment for eons.
Microorganisms responsible for decomposing biodegradable materials cannot do so with plastic as it only disintegrates into tiny bits that remain in the environment.
When plastic lingers in the atmosphere, it seriously threatens the well-being of wild animals, marine life, and Mother Nature.
Here is a quick rundown of how plastic hurts the Earth
It Is Ingested By Animals
It’s a well-established reality that most animals end up consuming plastic found in water bodies and on land. And that results in the death of many species.
Research shows that 90% of the world’s sea birds, more than half of the world’s sea turtles, consume plastic and meet their death. Whales are also a common victim of plastic in the ocean.
Experts predict that by the year 2050, the volume of plastic in the sea will exceed the population of fish.
It Causes Fracking
Fracking is a dangerous phenomenon causing earthquakes.
It is the formation of underground cavities that implode into sinkholes, increasing the underground pressure that disrupts rock formations and causes instability in the plates below the Earth.
The result? Earthquakes.
Now that we have established how fracking is bad for the environment, it must be noted that plastic is one of the most significant contributors to seismic disruption, aka fracking.
It Lingers In the Environment for Millennia
Studies have shown that plastic never dies! It continues to exist in the harshest climatic conditions. Be it the freezing winter, scathing summer, or torrential monsoon months, plastic weathers them all.
Safe to say, it can outlive humanity!
It Is Non-Biodegradable and Unrecyclable
Most people know that plastic is non-biodegradable or unrecyclable. Consequently, many remain confused about which plastic types can be recycled and do not send those for recycling.
Thus even the plastics that can be treated don’t end up in relevant plants.
What to Do With Plastic Utensils?
It must be clear to you by now that using plastic utensils is not a wise choice, which means hopefully, you will not buy more of those eco-damaging items.
However, what will you do about the sets you already have?
- Use them to make toys for kids. If you don’t have kids, you can make toys for poor kids and send your creations to shelter homes and non-profit organizations.
- Use them in arts and crafts. Perhaps the most creative way of utilizing plastic is incorporating it into art projects. There are various art pieces that you can make with plastic.
- Donate them to a school. If you don’t know how to utilize plastic in arts and crafts, donate it to charity schools where volunteers can use it to engage kids in doing creative assignments.
As much as you find plastic utensils convenient, you shouldn’t use them because they are rather inconvenient for wild animals, marine life, and our overall environment.
Switch to reusable old silverware you have lying around in the house.
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