Those who 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 most jurisdictions, including Montgomery County.
In fact, placing cups in recycling bins that have No. 6 recycling symbols on the bottom causes interruptions in the recycling process because 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.
“Although red and blue polystyrene drink cups are cheap, colorful and may trigger nostalgia for bygone college years, they are a nuisance product from a public standpoint,” said Adam Ortiz, director of the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). “They cannot be recycled in curbside programs, are difficult to remove from the recycling stream and contaminate our recyclable product stream.”
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 Ortiz is urging residents to use recyclable alternatives, such as cups made of No. 1 or No. 5 plastics—or made of recyclable paper.
Other items that should not be placed in recycling carts or bins—and disrupt the recycling system if they are—include plastic straws, plastic bags, plastic wrap, polystyrene (commonly known as Styrofoam), electronics, hazardous or toxic products and home health care products such as syringes and needles.
More information about the Montgomery County recycling program can be found on the DEP website.