Plastic Free July in Annapolis

plastic free july in annapolis logoPlastic Free July in Annapolis

We at Annapolis Green have been advocating for reduction in use of plastic, particularly single-use plastic, for some time. We feel strongly about this because the world is drowning in plastic and our oceans and its marine wildlife are suffering. Many scientists say that in the next decade there will be more plastic by weight in the ocean than fish and some believe that there is already more microplastic than plankton.  This cannot continue. The oceans are the lifeblood of the planet and millions of people around the world depend on their bounty for food.

To kick off our month we’d like to introduce you to a like-minded great group – Plastic Free Foundation (Yes, it’s another Australia connection – like our NAPTOWN TAPs and Annapolis mayor!), the organization behind Plastic Free July. We’re jumping in to join that awareness movement to keep you informed.

We like to make things our own and are connecting this awareness with our 2019 Plastic Free Annapolis campaign. We are going to add to the education (and fun) by offering up 31 Tips in July to help you reduce your plastic footprint. Watch your email and this page, and on some days on the chalkboard out front of our office at 92 Maryland Avenue. Scroll down to see today’s tip.

It would be terrific to share YOUR ideas too.  Why not send us your great plastic free ideas? Let’s build a stockpile of resources to share with our community! We’ll post them on our website.

Plastic pollution is a threat to public health

Plastic is already in our food supply, particularly in seafood. Fish eat plastic; we eat fish. Let’s work together to stop this.  it’s a matter of public health — our health.

Plastic Does Not Break Down, It Breaks Up

In addition to the marine plastic pollution we can see, the biggest danger is the microplastic, that is, the microscopic pieces that results when plastic products — from toothbrushes to beverage bottles — degrade and breakup. Marine wildlife confuse the tiny bits for food, ingest them, and die. Bigger pieces are a danger too — almost all seabirds, whales and other marine animals have plastic pieces in their stomachs.

Here are some informative links:

We’re discussing disposal of plastic, but production is a problem too. Plastic is made of petroleum, a fossil fuel that pollutes the planet in the extraction and refining process. 

The best way to keep throw-away plastic out of our streams, rivers, Chesapeake Bay and the ocean is to reduce our use.

TIP #1 - Carry a reusable water bottle!

Tip #1 – Carry a Reusable Water Bottle

Quench your thirst AND reduce your plastic footprint. Single-use plastic water bottles are some of the most found sources of plastic pollution. Most of us have access to perfectly good tap water making buying water an unnecessary expense that pollutes.

From Food & Water Watch – Tap water is a better choice than bottled water, for many reasons:

  • Bottled water is not safer than tap water. In fact, the federal government requires more rigorous and frequent safety testing and monitoring of municipal drinking water.
  • Bottled water is thousands of times more expensive than tap water. Compare $0.002 per gallon for most tap water to a range of $0.89 to $8.26 per gallon for bottled waters
  • Bottled water hurts the environment. After millions of barrels of oil are used to produce and ship plastic water bottles, 75% of them land in the garbage or our waterways instead of the recycle bin.

Opinion piece from the Washington Post: “Congrats! You dump 100 plastic bottles in nature each year.”

Tip #2 – Say No to Plastic Cutlery

Plastic cutleryBuy inexpensive metal or bamboo cutlery for picnics and take-out, or use compostables. Compostables only break down in industrial facilities but they can go in the landfill trash. That’s still better plastic knives, forks & spoons that are all too small to be recycled. Plastic cutlery in our environment now will be with us for over 1000 years, albeit in micropieces. The material most are made from, polystyrene, releases harmful chemicals when heated.

During the 2018 Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup, almost two million pieces of cutlery were collected, the fourth most collected item.

From Earth 911


From National Geographic
Why carrying your own fork and spoon helps solve the plastic crisis
We throw away billions of utensils every year, and many of them end up in the environment. The BYO cutlery movement could make a dent. Read more.

While On the Go
Don’t accept plastic cutlery from restaurants. Bring your own. Or, don’t patronize restaurants that provide disposable cutlery and tell them!

Tip #3 – A real tablecloth is better than plastic for your picnic!

hot dog on tablecloth

Having a picnic? Why not use a reusable, washable cloth tablecloth instead of a throw-away plastic one? Plastic tablecloths are too thin to be recycled and many are made with toxic plastics. If you already have a plastic tablecloth, instead of putting it in the landfill trash, give it a second life as a drop cloth or car trunk liner.

Many plastic tablecloths contain toxic chemicals, including PVC or even lead, that can harm your health.

And while this isn’t about plastic per se, why not switch to reusable, washable cloth for napkins too?

Tip #4 – Not all plastic cups are recyclable

Those popular red or blue cups, you know the ones, will end up in the landfill, or worse, polluting our streams. They are made of polystyrene, the same material as Styrofoam without the injected air. They can take centuries to break down — so essentially, never. If you see a 6 inside the recycle symbol on the bottom, it’s NOT recyclable.

A reusable stainless steel cup is a much better way to enjoy your favorite cold drink!

What does your one plastic cup matter? In the United States, 38 billion disposable cups are used every year. Yes, 38 billion.

Do your bit and if you’re having a picnic with friends, ask them to bring their own reusable cups. That’s not a lot to ask for the sake of the planet. Your friends will praise you for it, and so will Mother Nature.

Here’s good info from Montgomery County.

One more thing: NEVER put hot liquid in a plastic cup. Heat can cause plastic to release the toxic materials it is made from. You don’t want that in your drink.

Tip #5 – Buy shampoo & conditioner in cake form, not in plastic  bottles!

Think about how many plastic bottles you buy each year for hair care! Instead, buy these products in cake form, just like hand soap. They work great, keep your hair soft & shiny, and are available in many fragrances.

A lot of what you pay for when you buy shampoo in a bottle is water. That’s not the case with a shampoo cake! And, these are really easy to take on a trip!

This all applies to liquid hand soap too. Bar soap is cheaper and easier on the environment.

Tip #6 – Celebrations & commemorations are better without balloons!

Balloons look lovely as they float up, up and away. But there is no away. What goes up will come down, usually into a body of water, like the Chesapeake Bay. Animals die an agonizing death when they become entangled or mistake them or food. Mark your occasion with an alternative to balloons.

Balloons, whether made of mylar or latex plastics, spell death for marine and land-based animals in addition to being a source of marine microplastic as the thin film breaks up into tiny pieces. The internet is full of heartbreaking photos of animals that have died horrible deaths by either eating balloon plastic or becoming entangled in balloon string or ribbon such as the unfortunate bird shown here.

Click to watch Balloon Litter: Say No to Letting It Go!

A bill to ban balloon releases in Maryland was set to pass the General Assembly in early 2020 but the pandemic cut the legislative session short. It will likely be reintroduced in 2021. Queen Anne’s County banned balloon releases in 2019. Read more.

There is another reason to say no to helium-filled balloons. The world’s supply of helium is not infinite and it is needed for essential medical equipment such as MRI machines. It makes no sense to waste it in a balloon. Read more from the Smithsonian.

Some alternatives to balloon releases for your celebration or commemoration: luminarias or reusable luminaries made from paper bags or mason jars and tea candles, bubbles, birdseed, or flower petals. Click for some ideas. And here for more ideas.

Tip #7 – Caring for Your Teeth Without Plastic

There’s no need to buy plastic tubes or plastic pump bottles to keep those pearly whites healthy. Toothpaste is available in several alternative forms as are floss and toothbrushes.


There’s no need to buy plastic tubes or plastic pump bottles to keep those pearly whites healthy. Toothpaste is available in several alternative forms as are floss and toothbrushes.

There is tooth powder (just dip your toothbrush in and brush) or chewable tablets (chew to break them up & then brush). There are all sorts of minty flavors and even cleansing charcoal. These products are packaged in recyclable glass jars or small tins and work great.

Most are available without fluoride or synthetic flavorings and without a foaming agent present in almost all commercial toothpastes: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, a substance that can cause inflammatory skin reactions and eye irritation. It has been banned by the European Union. Read more

Billions of toothpaste tubes are discarded globally every year. You can reduce your plastic footprint by using an alternate product.


Traditional floss not only adds to plastic waste (a lot of it is waxed or treated nylon), it can also subject your mouth to toxic chemicals. Luckily, there are natural fiber no-chemical alternatives hitting the market all the time including one made from “sustainable non-GMO corn” fibers. It is packaged in a recyclable stainless steel container in a cardboard box. There is another brand made of silk and wax. Read more about alternatives.

About the packaging: Almost all floss is packed in tiny plastic boxes that are not recyclable. It doesn’t have to be. Read more.

And do we need to say it? Those small plastic picks could not be worse. And why do people toss them into the street?! Ew… Just say no and use real floss at home.


Millions of plastic toothbrushes are thrown away globally every year. They are not recyclable. There are alternative models with sustainable bamboo handles and replaceable heads. There are also models whose handles are made from recycled plastic – with a bamboo head. Unfortunately, most toothpaste bristles are made of nylon, a product derived from petroleum. But one company says its bristles are make from certified organic castor bean oil and they are packaged in cardboard, not plastic. Read more.

More manual toothbrush resources.

But what about electric toothbrushes?

There aren’t a lot of good eco-friendly choices to reduce your plastic footprint. But here are two interesting articles.


Tip #8 – Natural Cork, Not Plastic for My Wine!

Natural cork is a cork is a sustainable resource. The cork trees regrow the bark that is harvested. Yet, some winemakers choose throw-away plastic wine stoppers when the time-tested, natural cork can do an even better job.

And, plastic bottle stoppers are too small to be recycled; they fall through the recycling processing machinery. You could offer nearby school for craft projects. That way, they will at least get a temporary reuse.

There’s no way to tell if the wine bottle in the store is stopped with natural cork or plastic. But, once you get it home and open the bottle you’ll know and you can take an action to make a difference.

Write to wine companies that use plastic stoppers and ask them to go back to natural cork! Click here for a sample letter you can edit and make your own.

The more single-use plastic we take out of our wine glasses the better!

Read about our natural cork recycling program.


Tip #9 – Natural deodorants can cut your plastic footprint

Millions of containers of deodorant are sold and disposed of every year. There’s a better way. People have used salt crystals as a natural way to smell good and the crystals can last a year resulting in fewer plastic containers!

It’s embarrassing to discuss, but everybody sweats and with no treatment – bacteria on your skin causes that moisture to smell. It’s just a fact of life.

Go to any pharmacy or grocery store and you’ll see row upon row of antiperspirants and deodorants, many containing ingredients like artificial dyes parabens, phthalates, and perfume. Additionally antiperspirants have ingredients that actually block the body’s natural sweat glands with substances like aluminum zirconium or aluminum chlorohydrate and that’s something to consider.

However, We’re not here to discuss the benefits or dangers of these ingredients – just the plastic packaging. How many plastic containers of deodorant do you buy in a year? Many.

If you switch to a salt crystal, you’ll buy one container a year or maybe none, depending on which product you buy. Some come packaged in a plastic container that looks very much like a standard deodorant stick. Others come as just the crystal itself. There are also sprays. If you really want to cut your plastic footprint, go for the bare crystal.

And yes! Salt crystal deodorants work for most people. There will be some for whom they won’t work due to excessive sweating or just body chemistry. Also, salt crystals do not have antiperspirant qualities.

Here’s an added benefit. Salt crystal deodorants do NOT leave any residue on your clothes and there’s no sticky feeling on your skin.

  • No worry about letting it “dry” before you put on a dark colored garment
  • No stains on light colored garments

Additional info:

Antiperspirants/Deodorants and Breast Cancer

10 Reasons Why You Should Give Crystal Deodorant A Try

How Does Crystal Deodorant Work and Does It Have Any Side Effects?

Tip #10 – Your Butt is Plastic. Cigarette butts are mainly plastic, not biodegradable.

Cigarette butts have been called the last socially acceptable form of littering. You see them everywhere, flicked on the street by smokers oblivious to the environmental harm they are doing. Butts belong in appropriate receptacles, not on the street, the beach, or our waterways.

The most ubiquitous item in most cleanups around the world is the cigarette filter or butt. They are made largely of a plastic called cellulose acetate. It does not break down, instead, like all plastics, it breaks up into microplastic that is deadly to aquatic life.

Why are most cigarettes filtered? The manufacturers thought that if smokers believed the filtered brands were less harmful they would smoke more. It worked. Now some scientists believe that filters don’t do much for human health – they don’t trap enough of the toxins in cigarettes to make much difference. But… they do trap enough to hurt aquatic life when those butts hit our waterways. In this Nat Geo article (link below) you’ll see this quote from a scientist: ““One cigarette butt in a liter [of water],” he said of his findings, “kills half the fish.”

Cigar butts don’t belong on the ground, the beach or waterways either. While not plastic, they do carry toxic nicotine. Fish don’t need a good smoke. However, the tips on some small cigars are plastic and should go in landfill receptacles. They cannot be recycled.

Here are some interesting articles

And what about e-cigarettes? They are not only plastic waste, they are also electronic waste and hazardous waste all wrapped up in one toxic package. This is the poster child of an industry that creates a product without a thought about its disposal.

So what can you do?

  • If you are a smoker, stop littering. That’s what you’re doing every time you “flick.” Use an ashtray or appropriate receptacle. Annapolis Green can provide you with a free pocket ashtray. Just ask.
  • If you see someone “flicking” please say something. Chances are they don’t know their butt is plastic.
  • Spread the word in social media and with colleagues, friends and family.

Particularly now, while we are living with a pandemic caused by a respiratory disease, it makes sense to stop smoking for your own health too.

Tip #11 – Make Your Cup of Coffee Sustainable

Convenience and speed vs. environmental considerations: Which will you choose for your brew? There are lots of alternatives.

There are many aspects to the sustainability of your morning coffee from the way the coffee beans are grown to the system you use to brew it. Since this tip is about plastic, let’s start with the way you brew.

Coffee Maker Types

Single Serve
It’s the ultimate in convenience. Put in a plastic container, push a button, and you have a cup of coffee. But at what cost, not only to your wallet, but to the environment? Did you know that the number of K-Cups trashed into landfills as of today could wrap around the planet more than 10 times?! They are not recyclable even when the foil top is removed and the coffee grounds removed. There are similar issues with other types of coffee capsules.

What you can do: Several companies make refillable/reusable K-cup substitutes that you can fill yourself. Almost all are plastic, but at least they are not single-use plastic. One company makes a metal K-cup.

Here is a video comparing various types of refillable K-cups.

Nespresso Coffee Pods
They are made mainly of aluminum, a material that can be recycled. The company provides a recycling service so you can send the used pods back to them and they promise to repurpose the metal into bicycles and other products. The trick is to make sure the pods actually get into the special recycling box. Most don’t… because people are lazy or thoughtless.

This subscription company claims to make pre-filled containers with Rainforest Alliance certified coffee that are compatible with either Keurig or Nespresso.

Other articles of interest

Bottom line: There are many tried and true alternatives to the coffee capsules that do not affect the environment in this way including drip coffee and the French press. The French press makes an excellent cup of coffee which is why high-end restaurants often present coffee to you in a French press cafetière.

How the Coffee is Grown

Buy Fair Trade and eco-friendly coffee! It is important to look at where the coffee you drink comes from and how it is produced. Coffee growing practices can be unethical and harmful to biodiversity and the environment, such as cutting down rain forest to plant coffee bushes. To avoid supporting these types of practices, look for fair trade alternative brands like our local friends Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company. They offer customers certified “Bird Friendly Certified” coffee — in a recyclable/reusable metal can with a lid — which is grown under the shade of trees that provide habitat for birds! You can feel relaxed knowing that your delicious cup of morning coffee isn’t harming biodiversity.

Fairtrade is about people too. Read more.

Your Coffee Cup

Say goodbye to disposable coffee cups and hello to reusable ones! This is an oldie, but a goodie! Invest in your own reusable mug and carry it with you! Instead of throwing away hundreds of cups for every time you go to the coffee shop, bring your own! A lot of shops, like Starbucks, even offer you discounts on your purchase if you bring your own cup. Also, while paper cups may be recyclable, generally they are not compostable due to a plastic liner on the inside. The lids are generally not even recyclable because they are made of polystyrene, the same material that makes up Styrofoam. That’s another good reason to bring your own!

If you do get a to-go cup, at least return the cardboard sleeve to the store. It can be reused and recycled.

Tip #12 –Bring Your Own Produce Bags to the Grocery Store

Those green or clear bags found in the produce section of the store may look like they are compostable but they are not. They are made, typically, of polyethylene plastic. Reduce your plastic footprint by not using them at all or bringing you own.

Are those produce bags necessary? You can make your own decision, but either way, you need to wash your produce before you prepare it for cooking or eating raw. Here’s an interesting article about this.

There are alternatives! Washable mesh bags of all sorts are available. Here’s an article from Good Housekeeping that reviews several types. And here’s another article.

Be sure to toss those mesh or cotton produce bags in the washer after every use.

There are also compostable alternatives, like Frusack, whose bags are made from corn and can be composted in an industrial setting (not in your backyard composter).

If you like the grocery’s produce bags because they seem to keep food fresh in the fridge, think about whether that’s worth the plastic footprint cost. Most refrigerators have a produce drawer that will do the job just fine without the plastic. Or, you can invest in zipper-closure alternative bags made of silicon. More on that in a future Tip.

And for heaven’s sake, why does so much of our produce have to come prepacked in plastic? Think of all those clamshell containers with cherry tomatoes, berries and more. It’s a nightmare. English cucumbers come individually wrapped in plastic. Ridiculous. Tell your grocer you don’t want this.

Grocery Bags

During the pandemic, many grocery store cashiers are not allowed to pack your groceries in your own reusable bags. For the stores that don’t carry paper bags, the result is an explosion of plastic grocery bags which are very unlikely to be properly recycled and very likely to become roadside and stream litter where they break up into microscopic, harmful pieces. For store that do carry paper bags, they are using more than ever before and that’s not good either.

What can you do? You can bag your own groceries into your own bag. But do give our reusable bags a cleaning too. Most will do just fine in the washing machine – maybe in a mesh bag so the handles won’t tangle.

Tip #13 – Alternatives to plastic cling wrap film and food storage plastic bags

There are many tried & true ways to keep your food fresh without an increase in your plastic footprint.

Plastic cling wrap was invented as offshoot of other products with military and industrial use. It has become ubiquitous and results in plastic pollution. It’s almost impossible to recycle and contains toxic chemicals. Most cling wrap is made of PVDC (polyvinylidene chloride), PVC (Polyvinyl chloride), or polyethylene.

To learn about the possible health effects read more from Earth 911, “Skip the Plastic Wrap: 4 Food Wrap Alternatives”

Worried about PVC? Read these articles:

National Geographic says enough cling wrap film is bought in the United States to wrap Texas! See Nat Geo’s information on plastic cling wrap film: “The sticky problem of plastic wrap.”

Here is another article on plastic cling wrap pollution: “Plastic wrap is often pollution for profit.”

Luckily, there are many alternatives.

Beeswax wraps
There is a cottage industry making these wraps of fabric dipped in beeswax. Washed by hand in cold water the wraps last for many uses and can be re-dipped as needed. Local maker Half Moon Wraps has patterns that are Chesapeake themed. Half Moon was featured in Chesapeake Bay Magazine’s 2019 Gift Guide.

Waxed Paper

This has been used for decades to keep food fresh. Be sure to buy paper that’s been waxed with Soy wax, not paraffin (which is made from petroleum). Read more from Earth 911.

Silicon Products

While better than pure plastic there is some controversy about its “greenness” and safety with regard to food because these products do contain some plastic polymers. Read more from Treehugger.

Silicon Lids
These are very handy because they can make a tight seal around your container, are heat, freezer, microwave and dishwasher safe, and of course, reusable. There are two types – those that stretch around the container to fit any shape and those that sit on top. Read more from Healthy Cookware and more from Epicurious.

Silicon substitutes for “baggies”

These are being made to replace single-use plastic food storage bags are available in local stores and online.

Other tried & true methods your mom and grandmother used to cover food that are still good today:

  • Glass containers
  • Plates or bowls turned upside down over the food
  • Fabric
  • Stainless steel containers
  • Ceramic containers


Tip #14 – Make your makeup bag friendly to the Earth!

Beauty and personal care products makeup (no pun intended) 1/3 of all landfill waste. Little of it is recycled.

Did you know that 120 billion units of packaging are produced each year by the global cosmetics industry. Beauty products are often packaged in containers that are made up of a number of different materials making them complicated, if not impossible to recycle. Read more:

Here are a few ways you can make wiser decisions as a consumer to avoid and properly dispose of plastic packaging associated with cosmetics.

A good way to reduce your plastic consumption is to simply buy fewer products overall. Before buying a new product, ask yourself: Is this something I truly need? Is this product just a passing trend?

It is always best to try to avoid buying excess products that aren’t absolutely essential to your hygiene and physical care. When you do need to buy a new product, it is important to avoid items packaged primarily in plastic or items that cannot be recycled. Brands like Lush, Beauty Counter, and Elate also offer customers plastic-free options for the packaging of their products. Look for packaging alternatives to plastic like glass containers or cardboard.

See Lush’s Plastic Free July information: Footloose & plastic-free
Beauty Counter Launches A New Green Initiative
Beauty Counter Thinking Outside the Box
Elate description of its packaging

It’s important to see each one of your product’s life cycle through to the very end. When you finish a product, there are often many ways you could put the packaging to new uses: storage containers, earring holders, vases and more! Here are some suggestions:
From Cool Things I Love
From Penny & Pine

Some companies like mac and lush also offer refill or recycle initiatives with incentives like Mac’s Back to Mac where you can return 6 empty lipstick tubes and get one free. Garnier has a program with Terracycle where they pledge to donate two cents to a charity of your choice if you choose to recycle with them.

This is by far the most ignored and overlooked step by many cosmetic users. Over half of consumers simply choose not to recycle their cosmetics and the ones who do often don’t do it correctly. One thing to remember when recycling beauty products is that the container must be completely rinsed out to be recycled. This may take some extra time, but it is worth it if you don’t want your plastic packaging ending up in a landfill.

Avoid products with microbeads! Microbeads are the small non-biodegradable ball-shaped plastics often found in toothpastes, face washes, deodorants, and sunscreen. Because they are non-biodegradable, they accumulate in streams and rivers and get eaten by wildlife and subsequently humans. Even though microbeads were banned in the United States nationally in 2015, they still continue to accumulate in streams and rivers. If you still own products containing microbeads, make sure to dispose of them in a tightly sealed container, so that they cannot end up in a waterway.

Tip #15 – Sustainable shaving is better for the planet

Two billion disposable razors & blades a year pollute our planet, enough to circle the Earth six times. Safety razors are a sustainable alternative and shaving bars can replace shaving cream packed in plastic.

In 2019 the EPA estimated that two billion razors and blades used to refill disposable razors are thrown out per year. That’s enough to circle the earth six times, if lined up end to end. (

Many people continue to use disposal razors because they assume they can be recycled, but this is far from true. Hardly any recycling centers can process these razors and the replacement blades because they are too small for the site’s machinery and pose safety risks for workers. Because of this, most razors end up in the landfill or worse, our oceans, causing huge threats to wildlife. The stomachs of dead birds, whales, and other animals are routinely found full of plastic, including razors.

Here are a few tips for plastic-free shaving:

The Razor

The most common plastic-free alternative to a plastic, disposal razor is the safety razor.

Safety razors, made from stainless steel – some with a bamboo or wood handle – last for a long time and some handles may be able to be recycled. This is what your dad or grandad used. The straight razor’s long life means that you’ll spend less money in the long run even though the initial cost of a safety razor is more than for a disposable. One survey found that the average person spends over $100 a year on disposable razors.

Simply typing in “safety razor” in your search engine will bring up many well-rated brands. Eco-friendly razors are hard to find in grocery stores or drug stores, so the trick to zero-waste shaving is going to online options. There are many brands and options available.
Here is are some links to check out for more information:

Here’s another look at this. The Razor Rector company  has invented a way to keep blades stored in oil to protect them from the deterioration that results in loss of sharpness.

Other Alternatives

And of course there is the straight razor, but let’s leave that potentially dangerous tool to the professionals!

Electric razors are another alternative although they are largely made of plastic. At least they last a long time and eliminate the need for shaving cream, soap, or a shaving bar.

The Shaving Cream

Shaving cream is usually packaged in plastic. Think of the big bottles of shaving cream that you throw away, and imagine if you could prevent those from going into our waste stream. With shaving soap bars, the only waste you produce is a small piece of paper used for the initial packaging of the bar, which can be mainstream-recycled. Shaving bars can be found online and many, particularly when purchased from small businesses, come in plastic-free packaging. The bars create a nice lather for shaving when used on wet skin. More information.

There are also many recipes for DIY shaving soap.

The Packaging

Many companies that make safety razors from are committed to Zero-Waste packaging, which means less plastic used overall. No blister packs!

A final word

There are other alternatives that save money in the long run because they are more long-lasting, like laser hair removal and waxing. But that’s another topic entirely!

Tip #16 – How do you know what’s recyclable?

The “chasing arrows” symbol doesn’t always mean a product is recyclable. It’s all about the numbers. Here’s what they mean.

It’s a common misconception that the “chasing arrows” symbol on the side of many containers and products mean that that product is recyclable. It’s the number inside that symbol that makes the difference.

The numbers range from 1 to 7. The purpose of this type of labeling is to help the consumer determine what type of plastic it is and whether or not it can be recycled. Here’s what the numbers represent:

Number 1:
PETE or PET (polyethylene terephthalate)

This is the easiest of plastics to recycle. It is one of the most used and most recycled types of plastic. It contains antimony trioxide which is classified as a carcinogen. There is a risk that this toxin will leach from the plastic, particularly if the container is exposed to heat for a long period of time.
Leaching risk: low
Found in: Water bottles, soda bottles, food containers (such as peanut butter, ketchup, salad dressing, oil containers, etc.)
Recyclability: PETE is collected curbside and from public bins in Anne Arundel County. The material is as long as it has been fully emptied of food but rinsing out is not necessary.

Number 2:
HDPE (high density polyethylene)

HDPE is a hard, opaque plastic that is lightweight but also strong and is the most prevalent household plastic. It is a versatile plastic in terms of its uses for packaging and it is easily recyclable. HDPE is considered a safer option for food and drinks than PETE.
Leaching risk: low
Found in: Milk jugs, juice bottles, bleach, detergent, other household cleaners, shampoo bottles, some trash and shopping bags, motor oil bottles, butter and yogurt tubs, and cereal box liners.
Recyclability: HDPE is collected curbside and from public bins in Anne Arundel County but bags, cereal liners or any other thin plastic film of any types are not accepted. Most grocery stores have bag/film recycling collection boxes.

Number 3:
PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and V (vinyl) 

This plastic is very tough and generally resistant to weathering. However, PVC contains chlorine which can result in the release of highly dangerous dioxins. In terms of toxicity, PVC is considered to be the most hazardous plastic.
Leaching risk: high
Found in: Shampoo and cooking oil bottles, blister packaging, wire jacketing, siding, windows, piping
Recyclability: PVC and V are rarely recycled in the United States, but is accepted curbside in Anne Arundel County in small quantities: Containers weighing less than 40 pounds and no more than four containers will be collected per collection day.

Number 4:
LDPE (low density polyethylene)

This is what most plastic bags are made from along with flexible products like pull-on lids and six-pack rings. It’s also found in multi-layered, multi-material products like soft, lined containers for juices. Other uses include playground equipment, and plastic wrap.
Leaching risk: low
Found in: Squeezable bottles; bread, frozen food, dry cleaning, and shopping bags; tote bags; furniture
Recyclability: LDPE is is collected curbside and from public bins in Anne Arundel County not in filmy form like plastic bags.

Number 5:
PP (polypropylene)

This plastic has a very high boiling point so it is often used to hold hot liquids and many other products for both consumer, medical, and industrial use.
Leaching risk: low
Found in: Some yogurt containers, syrup and medicine bottles, caps, straws, carpeting, plastic bins, dishes and pitchers, floating rope, electric wire insulation, diapers, clothing
Recyclability: PP is collected curbside and from public bins in Anne Arundel County.

Number 6:
PS (polystyrene)

Polystyrene can be made into rigid products and, when expanded (injected with air), into foam products known by the trademarked term Styrofoam. Polystyrene’s components can leach into foods, particularly hot foods and liquids, and are possible human carcinogens. Use of expanded polystyrene (foam) was banned by the General Assembly for most food use in Maryland last year, however the statewide ban is not yet in place. Anne Arundel County and Annapolis have banned it for most food use within their jurisdictions. Many “disposable” plastic cups (sucha s the Solo brand) are made of polystyrene and are not recyclable. See Tip #4.
Leaching risk: high
Found in: Disposable plates and cups, meat trays, egg cartons, carry-out containers, aspirin bottles, compact disc cases, cutlery, coffee cup lids
Recyclability: PS, whether expanded or not, is not is usually not accepted for recycling in Anne Arundel County.

Number 7:
Miscellaneous Plastics

Any plastic that does not fit into the previous six categories is labeled number 7. Polycarbonate is one of the most common #7 plastics and it contains bisphenol-A, which is very toxic and extremely harmful to human health.
Leaching risk: high
Found in: Three- and five-gallon water bottles, bullet-proof materials, sunglasses, DVDs, iPod and computer cases, signs and displays, certain food containers, nylon
Recyclability: These are not accepted for recycling in Anne Arundel County. CHECK

Oddly, PLA (polylactic acid), which is made from plants and is carbon neutral, also falls into this category. PLA is compostable in industrial settings.

Recycling Information

Recycling rules are the same in the City of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County. Recyclability discussed here applies to the Annapolis/Anne Arundel County rules. Both jurisdictions offer a lot of information online.

Annapolis Information
Anne Arundel County Information

Most recycling in this area is processed at the Material Recovery Facility (MRF) operated by the Waste Management company. Note that some plastics are not recycled simply because they are too small and fall through the machinery at the MRF. Examples include plastic cutlery, plastic straws, small beverage bottle lids (they may be recycled if left attached to the bottle).

Click for additional information from the State of Maryland

What to remember about recycling plastic:

  • Unless bottle caps are attached to their bottles, put them in the trash, not in recycling; put plastic straws into the trash, not in recycling. Both are too small to be recycled.
  • Plastic, glass and metal containers accepted with curbside recycling do not need to be fully cleaned in order to be recycled. However, containers must be empty of food scraps.
  • Thin or flimsy plastics of any kind are NOT accepted for recycling in Anne Arundel County. Put recyclables directly in the recycling bin without a bag.
  • According to the Anne Arundel County Bureau of Waste Collection Services, the county’s current rate of recycling is 45%. Recycling is important because it saves resources and keeps plastic litter from entering our waterways and hurting wildlife.


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