September 11, 2019

Many Single-Use Plastic Drink Cups Surprisingly Cannot Be Recycled

Football season and endless fall events often lead to many types of parties. However, those who are environmentally conscious and intend to recycle single-use plastic drink cups made from polystyrene (often blue or red) should be aware that those cups are not recyclable in many jurisdictions, including Montgomery County.

In fact, placing cups in recycling bins that have No. 6 recycling symbols on the bottom cause interruptions in the recycling process because—like other items designated as unacceptable for Montgomery County recycling—they must be manually separated from recyclable items.

Montgomery has become a national leader in recycling. The County has improved its waste reduction and recycling rate to more than 60 percent of all solid waste generated. However, some items that can appear suitable for recycling should instead be placed in the trash.

The plastics industry has a voluntary system in which plastics are categorized into seven categories by Resin Identification Codes (RIC). They are classified by numbers 1 through 7. In Montgomery County and many other jurisdictions, No. 6 plastics cannot be recycled. The RIC numbers of many plastic items, including most cups, can be found on the bottom of the items.

Many cups that are red and blue on the outside and white on the inside are made of polystyrene or No. 6 plastic and cannot be recycled. In addition, some other single-use cups are made of No. 6 plastic and cannot be recycled.

DEP Director Adam Ortiz urges residents to use recyclable alternatives, such as cups made of No. 1 or No. 5 plastics—or made of recyclable paper in this video.

More information about the Montgomery County recycling program can be found on the DEP website.