Do We or Don’t We Recycle?

By elaine simmons

National Geographic, The Atlantic, and NPR recently ran stories that claimed only 5% of plastic is actually recycled in the US. How does this comport with Arlington’s much-touted recycling program?

In my skeptic mode, I called the county’s expert, Adam Riedel, and peppered him with questions. He was adamant that Arlington does collect plastic marked 1–7 (marked in a triangle) and sells it in bundles for processing in states like Alabama. He acknowledged that plastic marked 1, 2, and 5 may be the only types ultimately getting recycled (3/4/6/7 likely go to the landfill or are incinerated) but the 1/2/5 designations account for most of the plastic collected. 

Adam also mentioned things that people put in blue recycling bins that don’t belong there:

“Paper” coffee cups (they are plastic lined) and plastic tops from coffee shops: put in trash 

Plastic bags and Amazon bubble wrap envelopes:  can be recycled at grocery stores that collect plastic bags (e.g., Giant near Virginia Square and Hyde Park Harris Teeter near Ballston Common)

While it’s good to hear what Arlington is doing with recycling, for many reasons, we should still cut down on plastic, especially single use plastic, such as water bottles, cutlery, take-out containers, and plastic bags. An easy way to reduce is to get reusable cups/bottles for coffee and water and reusable or paper bags for groceries.