Toss your plastics into recycling bins

San Franciscans looking for something to save this Earth Day can add some unexpected entries to the usual lists of threatened places and endangered species: disposable forks, frappuccino cups and take-out containers.

Norcal Waste Systems, The City’s waste pickup company, will start accepting virtually all types of plastic — except bags, film wrap, bubble-wrap and Styrofoam — for recycling in blue curbside bins on Earth Day, scheduled for April 22.</p>

“This is great news,” Bayview resident Shane King said. “I tend to be random and throw about three-fourths of my plastic into the recycling and one-fourth into the garbage.”

King said he’s been “hip to recycling” since his mother taught him to recycle in the 1970s, but said he doesn’t understand the number-coded recycling system. He said he drops items in his blue bin that “feel” recyclable.

The company currently asks residents and businesses to check the obscure number codes molded into plastic cups and containers before tossing them into the blue curbside bins. It currently accepts plastic containers for recycling if marked with numbers 2, 4 or 5, such as margarine tubs, company spokesman Robert Reed said.

Other types of plastic containers that are placed in blue bins, such as see-through iced coffee cups, salsa containers and take-out boxes, are currently dumped by Norcal at the Altamont landfill, Reed said.

But that’s set to change next week.

“This opens the door to a lot of additional recycling,” Reed said.

The change is a meaningful one that could set a national example and help cut down on greenhouse gas emissions and plastic pollution, said Dan Jacobsen, a lobbyist at nonprofit Environment California. Jacobsen said it’s better to avoid plastic than recycle it.

Norcal sorts 4,200 tons of paper, glass and plastic every week atits Pier 96 facility and loads bails of recyclable items onto ships that carry the material to recyclers around the Pacific Rim, Reed said.

Norcal recently struck agreements with manufacturers willing to accept a new array of rigid plastics which will be chipped into flakes and pellets for use in such products as ski parkas, plastic lumber, recycling bins and plastic packaging, he said.

The different types of plastic are made from processed crude oil, said Nitash Balsara, a chemical engineering professor at UC Berkeley. He said plastic recycling is growing in importance as oil supplies diminish and grow more expensive.

jupton@examiner.com

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