Plastics, and Recycling in Brattleboro

Brattleboro is about to change from dual stream to single stream recycling on July 3. The Town of Brattleboro sent out a postcard with a reminder of this date, and a reminder that another big change is coming: plastics 1-7 will now be collected.

I thought it might be helpful to dive a bit deeper and look at each type of plastic that Brattleboro could collect.

The first thing to know is that many plastic containers and packaging have numbers associated with them. This is a “resin identification code” developed by the plastics industries in the 1980’s to help with recycling. It’s sometimes stamped or molded into the bottom of the container.

Let’s look at each, how they are used, how they might be recycled, and also how to avoid them in the first place.

Also, be forewarned, not everything listed here will be accepted at the curb in Brattleboro. More on that below.

Plastic Code # 1 – Polyethylene terephthalate (PET, or polyester)

Common uses for Code 1 plastic include bottles and jars, microwave-ready meal trays, and detergent bottles. Polyester is also used in fabrics, padding, insulation, carpet, and belts.

When recycled, Code 1 often becomes polyester fiber for fleece, tote bags, and straps, though it drops in quality each time it is recycled and eventually becomes landfill waste.

You can avoid it in the first place by using glass bottles and jars, and natural fabrics.

Plastic Code #2 – High Density Polyethylene

Common uses for Code 2 plastic include plastic grocery bags, opaque containers for milk or juice, shampoo and detergent bottles, garbage bags, dishes, yogurt containers, butter tubs, cereal box liners and some medicine bottles.

When recycled, Code 2 often becomes bottles for non-food items, plastic lumber and furniture, recycling bins, fencing, floor tiles, buckets, crates, flower pots, and garden edging.

To avoid it entirely, use glass or stainless steel food containers, re-use glass jars, and use re-useable bags made of natural fibers.

Plastic Code #3 – Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC, or vinyl)

Common uses for Code 3 plastics include toys, blister wrap, cling wrap, squeeze bottles, shampoo bottles, cooking oil and peanut butter jars, loose-leaf binders, shower curtains, blood bags, medical tubing, pleather clothing, Naugahyde upholstery, carpet backing, credit cards, clamshell packaging, plumbing pipes, house siding, window frames, fences, decks, and other construction.

Code 3 is rarely recycled, as it contaminates the recycling stream, but when it is recycled it often becomes more of the same – packaging, binders, decking, insulation, mud flaps, or garden hoses. (Brattleboro will be accepting Code 3 plastics, regardless.)

To avoid this plastic, try to use glass containers, cardboard binders, hemp or cotton shower curtains, and green building techniques.

Plastic Code #4 – Low Density Polyethylene

Common uses for Code 4 plastic include the bags used for groceries, dry cleaning, bread, frozen food, newspaper wrappers, and garbage bags. It is used to coat paper milk cartons and beverage cups, and is used for some squeezable bottles of mustard or honey. You’ll find it in food storage containers and in container lids.

When recycled, Code 4 plastic is often made into compost bins, panneling, or plastic lumber.

To avoid this plastic, you can use glass or stainless steel containers, and bags made of natural fibers.

Plastic Code #5 – Polypropylene

Common uses for Code #5 plastics include food containers, medicine bottles, straws, bottle caps, Britta fileters, Rubbermaid and other opaque plastic containers, baby bottles, disposable diapers and sanitary pad liners, thermal vests, appliance parts, and car parts.

When recycled, you can find Code #5 plastics being made into brooms, brushes, bins, auto battery cases, and flower pots.

To avoid this plastic, use glass or stainless steel alternatives, and don’t buy butter in a plastic tub.

Plastic Code #6 – Polystyrene

Code #6 plastics are commonly known as styrofoam, and are commonly used for styrofoam food containers, egg cartons, disposable cups and bowls, take-out food containers, deli food plates, packing peanuts, and bike helmets. Harder versions are used for disposable cutlery and razors, compact disc and DVD cases, clothing hangers, smoke detector housings, license plate frames, medicine bottles, test tubes, model kits, and petri dishes.

When recycled, it can be made into packaging or insulation.

To avoid this one, avoid take-out food containers. Re-use glass jars and ceramic dishes. Try bamboo cutlery for picnics.

Plastic Code #7 – All Other Plastics

This category includes all other plastics. One of the more common “other” plastics is Polycarbonate.

Polycarbonate is used in baby bottles, sippy cups, water bottles, juice containers, large blue water bottles, oven baking bags, carbonless paper receipts, eye glass lenses, epoxy resins, dental sealants, compact discs, DVDs, snowboards, car oarts, housings for cell phones and power tools.

If recycled, this can be remade into plastic lumber.

To avoid entirely, use glass or stainless steel.

Some caveats.

Not “all” plastics will be accepted.

Brattleboro wants you to limit the size of what you recycle, and will accept items up to the size of a 5 gallon plastic pail. General household items, such as sleds, milk crates, laundry baskets, plastic chairs, carts, toys, and storage/trash containers are NOT ALLOWED in your recycling bins.

The recyling facility, Casella, has some other restrictions, and asks that you do not recycle: Plastic bags or wrapping, window glass, mirrors, light bulbs, dishes, pyrex, ceramics, paper towels, facial tissue, styrofoam, recyclables containing food residue, paints, oils, hazardous material, needles, syringes, VCR tapes, CDs/ DVDs, scrap metal, pots, pans, batteries, large plastic items, hard-cover books, clothing/textiles, wood/lumber, yard trimmings, paper cups or plates, frozen/refrigerated food/beverage boxes, milk or juice cartons, or 3-ring/spiral notebooks.

Peter Gaskill of Triple T says “The recycling plastic #1-7 does not include large items. We would collect containers as large as 5 gallons. We would not collect a bag of Styrofoam packing peanuts, plastic car parts or Tupperware as they are not an accepted plastic. We would collect empty plastic containers labeled with #1-7 that have the chasing arrow logo without caps on the containers up to 5 gallons. You can look for the recycling logo it is usually found on the bottom of the item.”

So, what can be recycled is not always what is accepted for recycling, and Brattleboro will likely experience a bit of a learning curve as everyone learns what is acceptable.

Accepting more plastics will keep more of it out of landfills, push more people to look for alternatives, and should further reduce the number of PAYT bags sold in town.

Thanks to for the plastics info.

Here is the Casella recycling facility website:

And here is a song about PVC by Kenickie:

Comments | 10

  • Plastic -- It's Everywhere

    Somehow, being able to recycle all 1-7 plastics seemed a bit too good to be true. Let’s hope the list of exceptions is short and easy to memorize — from the list supplied by Casella it looks like we just have to avoid recycling styrofoam, CDs/DVDs, and plastic bags.

  • If it is accepted, does it mean it will really be recycled?

    I’ve heard many stories of communities where single-stream recycling accepted #1-7 but most of that was then put back into the trash because there wasn’t sufficient demand or acceptable market for it.

    I would hate to think people would continue buying #1-7 thinking it is all recyclable (because that is what they’re being told) if the truth is that only #1-2 is actually getting recycled.

    I am concerned that single-stream sends the wrong feedback to consumers in this way. Just wondering if anyone has more info about this and how it will play out here.

  • Also, thanks for the good and comprehensive info above

    It is critical that people understand what the limits are of recycling and what their alternatives could be.

  • TM weighs in...

    From the Town Manager:

    “Please make sure people know that Brattleboro’s switch to single stream means all 1-7 containers (up to the 5 gallon size limit) really will be recycled now, not just collected. Amanda’s post this morning expresses the concern that we’ll be moving from full recycling to limited recycling. I understand that concern, but it’s important for people to know that what’s happening here is exactly the opposite. One of the reasons we’re making this change is because the WSWMD was no longer recycling 3-7 and Casella does recycle it.

    Peter “

  • A Questioning for TM

    Assuming TM &/or staff are monitoring iBratt, here’re another couple questions:

    1. Instructions say “clean” recyclables.  If there’s cardboard with an oil stain, such as from a pizza box, should it be recycled with the cardboard or included with the curbside organics for composting?  How does one know how much of a stain is too much?
    2. How clean do plastics have to be?  Our biofuel coop gets waste vegetable oil from restaurants in 5-gal. ‘cubies’ in cardboard boxes, how clean do we have to get them?
    3. Is there a place to bring recyclables and food waste now that the Fairgrounds Road recycling rolloffs are gone?

    I’d also like to point out that just because a plastic is recycled doesn’t make it benign.  All of these recycled materials have energy embodied in them, get reprocessed, and require hauling to their destinations, which can be the other side of the continent or even the globe.

    Cordially,  The Other TM

    • #3

      Ferry Road is the replacement for Fairground Rd.

      • Ok, but/and

        Thanks, Chris. But . . .

        • Does recycling dropoff have specific hours, or is it available for recycling 24/7 like the Fairgrounds Road dropoff was?
        • Do we need to buy a trash sticker to use it?
        • And my other questions re slightly soiled recyclables
    • Why am I in the middle of this? : )

      “The Ferry Road site is not open 24/7 and users do need to purchase an annual permit to deposit materials there. That information and more was on the postcard recently mailed to all addresses in Brattleboro in preparation for the transition to single stream curbside service. For more information about the WSWMD’s drop-off service, people can contact the District at or (802)257-0272.

      As to the cleanliness questions, there is no hardline rule. People should just use common sense. A very soiled container or paper product should be disposed of properly outside of the recycling system, but the recycling process can handle a small amount of residue on paper, glass, or plastic. People should make an effort to ensure their recyclable materials are as clean as reasonably possible, but they should not divert out of the recycling stream products that remain slightly oily or are otherwise not perfectly clean. For more guidance on the cleanliness question, people can contact Triple-T at or (802)254-5388.


      • The Middle

        Re: “Why am I in the middle of this? : )”

        Because TM and the TM are not allowed to communicate directly.  Something about a non-disclosure/non-compete agreement, the Town’s rules regarding the use of social media, and certain basic laws of physics governing matter/anti-matter interactions.  Space-time continuums get warped.  It isn’t pretty.

        Order has been maintained.  Thanks to you both.

  • black plastic

    A couple of years ago a person who works in recycling at the landfill told me that they have to fish out all the black plastic, even if it has the number and is the right size. He said that buyers don’t want black because it limits the colors of whatever they turn it into. Does anyone know if we can recycle black plastic containers?

Leave a Reply