When it comes to recycling, we all make mistakes.
Sometimes, we throw something in the wrong bin—or we aren’t sure what bin it belongs in and make an educated guess.
And if you’ve ever wondered whether you’re properly recycling those Chobani and Yoplait containers, I’m here to admit the answer to this dilemma stumped me, as well, given the unique plastic they’re often made of. (And in a haze of confusion, I’ve thrown some containers in the trash and others in the recycling bin.)
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What is the truth when it comes to recycling your plastic yogurt cups? Well, you’ll need some context: Unlike plastic water bottles, most yogurt containers are actually made of polypropylene or #5 plastics (a term which classifies plastic types. This category includes things like ketchup bottles and common kitchenware. It’s more durable than your usual plastic and can withstand greater temperatures.
The problem is that many curbside recycling programs no longer accept polypropylene plastic because it has little recyclable value (and because of China’s recent ban on our imported trash).
The foil lids, too, are a tricky item to recycle given that both the lid and container come into contact with food, which presents a problem for some recycling facilities who can’t accept contaminated items.
Does this mean you should throw your yogurt in the trash can? No—not yet at least. You might still be able to recycle yogurt containers, but it will take some extra legwork.
First, you should figure out what kind of plastic your container actually is made of. You can identify its plastic type by the number on its bottom. Chobani, Fage, and Yoplait containers, for instance, are #5 plastic (Chobani “Flip” yogurts are made of #6 plastic, which also isn’t accepted by most curbside recycling programs).
If you have a #5 or #6 plastic container, you should then consult your own curbside recycling program by doing an online search of your program’s rules. Most times, they’ll spell out which types of plastic they accept (if not, email them directly!).
Given the recent changes in recycling with China’s ban, it’s important to figure out if your curbside program has recently updated its rules. You can check Waste Dive for any changes to local or state-wide recycling programs. New York City, luckily, still accepts #5 plastic, so I can safely recycle my Chobani containers through my curbside program (phew).
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According to Tori Carle, a waste reduction supervisor in Greensboro, North Carolina, Greensboro’s local curbside program fortunately also accepts yogurt containers, but makes an important caveat—you should be careful of recycling anything smaller than a yogurt cup, so you might need to check in with your program for those items.
“Smaller containers (ex: to-go dressing cups) are too difficult to separate into the plastic bunkers,” she said. “Those small pieces of plastic end up in the glass pile along with a myriad of things that are small and not recyclable: straws, tampon applicators, toys, forks, bottle caps, and more.”
If your curbside program doesn’t accept #5 plastic, you can use Recycle More Plastic’s map to find a nearby collection program, specifically for polypropylene plastic.
You can also drop off old yogurt containers at Whole Foods stores through Preserve’s Gimme 5 program—you can find collection bins at the storefront or cafe area. You can even mail them-in to Preserve directly, using the address on their website (though you should re-use an old box to keep the process green).
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