Why Can’t You Recycle Clamshell Containers Made of PET?

My last two columns were basically about hummers and pee, so I agree it’s probably time for something a little more sober-minded.

(Sam Gehrke)

Why it is possible to recycle soda bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate plastic, but not the ubiquitous clamshell containers made of the same stuff? —Not Happy as a Clam

My last two columns were basically about hummers and pee, so I agree it's probably time for something a little more sober-minded. So break out your hardest wooden chair, fix yourself a heaping bowlful of dry, raw kale, and get ready for some regional waste-disposal policy.

According to the National Association for PET Container Resources, or NAPCOR, single-layer thermoplastic PET clamshells could indeed—theoretically, at least—be recycled along with the PET soda bottles we've all been recycling for years.

I should note, however, that the Association of Plastics Recyclers says NAPCOR is full of shit—the two applications use different formulations that melt at different temperatures.

It doesn't really matter either way, because the real problem is that you and rest of the public tend not to know the difference between a single-layer thermoplastic PET clamshell and a hole in the ground—and the people who work at recycling centers don't do a whole lot better.

There are so many different kinds of plastic formed into clamshell-like packaging that even trained recycling techs have a tough time telling them apart. And if the item has an adhesive sticker, or a peel-off film, or one of those sanitary napkins that are put under steaks, it's not usable even if it's exactly the right kind of plastic.

If you want Portland to crack down on non-recyclable plastic clamshells, you're in luck: Portland's Bureau of Planning and Sustainability is, even now, seeking ideas from the public for reducing single-use plastics. Hit them up at 503-823-7202 or wasteinfo@portlandoregon.gov.

People with interesting lives rarely show up for this kind of thing, which is why Republicans rule the world. But if you actually take the time, you can have a real impact. Trust me, nothing terrifies a local government official more than a concerned citizen.

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