Complete Guide to Smart Plastic Recycling - Earth Day!

Complete Guide to Smart Plastic Recycling - Earth Day!

The first plastic patent was filed in Birmingham England in 1856 and since then, plastics have become, to a large degree, the backbone of today's industrialized society.  Plastic production proliferated by World War II with the discovery of new plastics that were both highly durable and resistant to degradation. It changed the way we live today, improving the performance of many existing products, creating new transport possibilities, and lowering the costs of everyday products. We didn't initially realize the unintended consequences of this technology; that plastic's inability to degrade over time would negatively impact our planet for generations. Recycling gave us a chance to undo the negative impact of plastics, but recycling only works when we do our part.

Learn more about plastic usage, reuse, recycling, and how YOU can help this Earth Day!

How Much Plastic Do We Use?

In the 20th Century, we were producing an average of 2 million tons of plastic globally each year.  By 2015, production levels reached 200 times that, a staggering 381 million tons globally. From 1950 to 2015 the world produced 7.8 billion tons of plastic, which is more than one ton of plastic for every person alive today. [1]

What Happens To Our Plastic?

There are three options for processing plastic waste; recycling, incineration, or disposal in a landfill. A global study in 2015 estimated that 55 percent of global plastics are discarded, 25 percent is incinerated, and only 20 percent gets recycled. Plastics that arrive in landfills break down slowly, and plastics like PVC can leach chemicals into the surrounding soil or water if not handled properly. Incineration of plastic waste generates CO2, one of the biggest culprits of climate change, and release toxic emissions. The least destructive plastic disposal method is recycling. Of the 7.8 billion tons of plastic produced between 1950 and 2015, only 9 percent has been recycled. [1]

While every country has a role to play in improving how we process plastic waste, some countries have further to go than others. Plastics are often mismanaged, meaning the material is either littered or inadequately disposed of, creating a high risk of entering the ocean. Fortunately, North America processes about 99 percent of our plastics responsibly, but East Asia and the Pacific Islands mismanage as much as 60 percent of their plastics, according to a 2010 report. [1] 

Know Your Plastics, Learn the Recycling Numbers.

In 1988 the US Society of the Plastics Industry introduced a standardized system to identify and recycle different plastics by establishing the Resin Identification Code system (RIC). Each type of plastic needs to be recycled with similar materials, and the RIC system makes sorting and separating plastic according to resin type easier. The RIC system also established recycling symbols that have since been applied to packages around the world, improving the rate and effectiveness of recycling. 

#1 Plastics ♳

Also known as polyethylene terephthalate (PETE or PET), it's most commonly found in plastic bottles, like soft drink or water bottles. This plastic is translucent, durable, lightweight, and widely recycled. [2]

#2 Plastics ♴

High-density polyethylene, or HDPE, is most commonly used to make milk containers, cleaning agent containers, and toiletry products. The plastic is stiff and hard to break down by heat, unlike the #1 plastic but is widely accepted by curbside recycling programs as well. [2]

#3 Plastics ♵

Polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, is most commonly used for plastic piping, vinyl flooring, cable insulation, lawn chairs, and inflatable mattresses. While PVC is a sturdy plastic, chemicals that are used to soften are not ideal for food packaging, so make sure any food containers and baby toys are free of PVC plastics. The chemicals in #3 plastics can make them difficult to recycle, so check with your local recycling centers before you discard them. [2]

#4 Plastics ♶

Low-density polyethylene or LPDE is a low-cost, lightweight plastic that is used in making cling wrap, sandwich bags, grocery bags, six-pack can holders, and even flexible lids. LDPE is frequently given a second life as a garbage can or as a composite building material.  LPDE is mostly recyclable and widely accepted. Make sure to check with your local recycling center to check if this type of plastic is accepted in your curbside recycling program. [2]

#5 Plastics ♷

Polypropylene, or PP, is another lightweight and low-cost plastic that is commonly used in bottle caps, disposable cups, plates, and even Tupperware. The material stands up to higher heat levels and is highly reusable. PP acceptance has increased, but many local municipalities still do not support #5 plastic recycling.  Make sure to check with your local recycling facility to see if they take #5 plastics. If not, there are programs like “Gimme 5” that accept these plastics in select retail stores and by mail.[2]  VitaCup's Keurig compatible pods are made of #5 plastic and we wrote about recycling number 5 plastics last America Recycles Day, read it to learn more.

#6 Plastics ♸

Polystyrene, or styrofoam, is rarely recycled, but more curbside programs are supporting this material. #6 plastics are most frequently seen in the form of packing peanuts, packing foam, plastic cutlery, or plastic food boxes. When they are recycled responsibly, they can be repurposed into insulation, license plate frames, or even rulers.[2]

#7 Plastics ♹

These plastics are defined as the "other" category, a catch-all including nylon, acrylics, polycarbonates, polylactic acid (PLA), or plastics that are a multilayer of different plastics.  These are most frequently found in the form of headlight lenses, plastic lumber, safety glasses, or even some bottles.  In addition, the #7 plastic group also includes new plant-based polymers like corn starch, which are being developed to replace polycarbonates. This category is a cumulation of different plastic types, and as a result, they have historically been more difficult to recycle.  Many recycling programs are now accepting these plastics like the #7 plastic used in  VitaCup's espresso capsules.[2] 

What Can You Do?

Recycling is an essential way to protect the planet and its natural resources for this generation and generations to come! In honor of Earth Day, take a minute to think your current routine and how you can recycle more materials and waste less.  Have you been using the trash can in your office when there's a recycling bin in the kitchen? Did you purchase a plastic water bottle because you left your reusable one at home? Evaluate your daily patterns and determine how you can make easy changes that can add up fast.

VitaCup pods are made out of 100% recyclable (and BPA-free) plastics so they're easy to recycle. The recycling process is easy to do without any special tools.

  • Remove your pod after brewing and allow it to cool down
  • Tear off the aluminum lid and recycle it
  • Remove the paper filter and the coffee grounds from the coffee pods
  • Put the pod in your recycling bin

Reusing your materials helps the environment, too, since you're acquiring fewer new materials to complete projects. We love to re-use the pods themselves and also love to re-use the contents of the pods.

Coffee grounds are great to use in the garden or use in your compost pile (composting is another form of recycling and a great benefit for the environment).  Some plants like azaleas, camellias, and hydrangeas (to name a few) are acid-loving plants that thrive with soil that has a little ground coffee added. Soil on the West coast is a bit on the alkaline side, so adding coffee grounds (yes, even the used ones) and managing the PH can help gardens flourish.

We have a number of DIY projects to help you re-use your pods.  The project we're most obsessed with this spring is using our pods as DIY plant starters, perfect for getting your seedlings strong.  See all of our DIY projects here.

If you don't want to get your hands dirty, don't have a recycling center near you, or if you have an office that goes through a lot of pods and capsules, you might want to consider getting a Zero Waste Box. The Zero Waste boxes by TerraCycle make it easy to recycle without having to clear out the contents in your pods or capsules. First purchase a box, then discard your pods until full and ship them back using a pre-paid FedEx label. TerraCycle will complete the recycling process on your behalf.

Items that are purchased on-the-go are often discarded to go into landfills even when they are recyclable. You may be surprised by the footprint of different types of coffee consumption, too. Did you know that a VitaCup pod has a smaller footprint than a take-out coffee cup?  VitaCup now offers ground coffee in 12 oz bags, so you can brew a full pot of coffee when you have a larger group gathering.  You can also use our ground coffee in reusable single-serve pods that open on the top and allow you to fill them with the coffee of your choice.   

No matter what kind of coffee you like to enjoy - pod coffee or ground coffee - VitaCup has a blend for you!

Shop VitaCup Coffee Here!



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