Recycle Smart: Changes in How We Need to Recycle

You may or may not be aware of some changes to recycling plastic on a global level. We asked McKenzie Jones, Sustainability Specialist with the City of Flagstaff, to let us know about the changes and how to proceed with recycling as much as we can.

Plastics recycling in Flagstaff is changing and you will no longer be able to recycle certain types of plastics in your curbside recycling bin. Until now, we have been able to recycle all types of plastic, numbers 1-7, as long as they were rigid. As of June 1st, 2018, the only types of plastic that will be accepted for recycling are plastic bottles and jugs, which are numbers 1 and 2.

These changes stem from changes in the national and international recycling market. The recycling market has been significantly impacted due to the Chinese government no longer accepting certain types of recyclables as imports. Until recently, China has accepted roughly half of the world’s plastic and paper recyclables. The sudden ban on much of these materials has sent international markets for recyclables into a tailspin. Norton Environmental, the company responsible for sorting and selling Flagstaff’s recyclables, has been unable to find buyers for these types of plastic. Flagstaff is not alone, as many other communities around the country have been forced to remove items from their acceptable materials list or send significant amounts of formerly recyclable materials to the landfill.

What can we all do?

While this recent decision by China to ban certain types of recyclables was sudden, it is the result of a long-term and growing problem of material consumption and contamination in the world’s recycling stream. Despite the fact that people are putting more recyclables in their recycling bins, they have also been increasingly placing more non-recyclable items into their bin. This is known as “wishful recycling” which actually makes it more difficult and costly to process recyclable items. The end result is that more recyclable items get sent to the landfill as contamination.

These changes do provide an opportunity for all of us to reflect on the purpose of recycling. Recycling reduces the demand on natural resources, lowers the energy needed to create the products we use daily, and saves valuable landfill space. While it can feel good to put all of our trash in the recycling bin, doing so negates the benefits of recycling.

To realize the benefits of recycling, only the correct types of plastics can be recycled – wishful recycling must stop. Going forward, sort your plastics by shape. Forget the number and chasing arrow symbol found on some plastics. Instead only recycle your plastic bottles, jugs, and jars. This includes beverage, toiletry, and soap bottles, as well as milk jugs and peanut butter jars (just make sure they are clear of any food). Any plastic packaging that does not fit these shapes is not recyclable, including items such as bags, wraps, trays, take-out containers, cups, and produce containers. Just make sure to keep recycling your cardboard, paper, and metal cans. While you’re at it, touch up on recycling basics by visiting our online recycling guide at

The best thing that we can do is to choose durable, reusable items and avoid throwing items in either your recycling or trash bin. And, don’t forget to bring your own reusable mug or carry a reusable water bottle or shopping bag with you on the go. Find out what you can do to prevent waste by visiting

To find out what the City is doing to reduce the impacts of Flagstaff’s waste and consumption, visit   or contact our Zero Waste Coordinator at 928-213-2158 or [email protected].

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Flagstaff, AZ 86001
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