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Are Plastic Cups Recyclable? How Do You Properly Dispose of Them?

Plastic Cup

Many people use plastic cups almost every day. They are convenient, but they can be quite bad for the environment, which has many people wondering if they are recyclable. Fortunately, most plastic cups are recyclable, but certain common ones are not. So, keep reading as we explain how to find out which cups are recyclable and where you can recycle them.

divider 4 How Do I Know What Kind of Plastic My Cup Is?

Plastic Cup
Image Credit: RoboMichalec, Pixabay

To find out what kind of plastic is in your cup, search it carefully for a triangular recycling symbol. Inside the sign, you should see a number that tells you what kind of plastic it is. In many cases, you can recycle #1 and #2 plastic in your recycling bin. You might be able to recycle #4, #5, and #7 plastic, but you will need to contact your local recycling plant to see if it will take it and to learn how to properly dispose of it. Unfortunately, you usually cannot recycle #3 and #6 plastics, so you must throw them in the trash.

What Are the Different Types of Plastic?

1. PET or PETE

  • Polyethylene terephthalate

PET or PETE plastic has a #1 on it. It’s a common plastic in water and soda bottles, and you will find many cups that use the same plastic. You will also find PET plastic in the fibers of some clothing.


Plastic Bag
Image Credit: cocoparisienne, Pixabay
  • High-density polyethylene

High-density polyethylene is another common recyclable plastic. You will usually see this #2 plastic used in milk jugs, detergent bottles, cups, and plastic bags. You will often find it as a recycled ingredient in bottles, pipes, fencing, and more.

3. PVC

  • Polyvinyl chloride

PVC is the #3 recyclable plastic. Manufacturers often use this type of plastic in food packaging, plastic cups, and oil bottles. Recycled PVC often becomes new pipes or construction materials.


Plastic Cup
Image Credit: bluebudgie, Pixabay
  • Low-density polyethylene

LDPE is a #4 recyclable plastic. You often see it in plastic bags, packaging, food wrappers, and cups. Recycling centers can often recycle #4 plastic and use it to create new bags or packaging material.

5. PP

  • Polypropylene

Polypropylene is a # 5 recyclable plastic. Many straws use this kind of plastic, and you will also frequently find it in packaging materials, cups, yogurt containers, and many other, similar products.

6. PS

Plastic Cup
Image Credit: Pixabay
  • Polystyrene

Polystyrene is a #6 plastic that is not recyclable. Manufacturers use it to create many products that we regularly use, including the single-use cups from coffee chains like Starbucks.

7. Other

There are a few kinds of #7 plastics that you can recycle, but these often contain several types of plastic that are not recyclable, so it’s best to contact your local recycling center to see if your #7 plastic is recyclable.

divider 1 What Cups Do I Throw in the Trash?

Plastic Cup
Image Credit: Pixabay

Polystyrene is a #6 plastic that is not recyclable and must be thrown away. It is often hard, clear, and brittle, and you will often see it in products like compact disc cases. Many companies mix it with other ingredients to make cups.

How Can I Recycle My Plastic Cups?

You can usually put plastics numbered 1, 2, 4, and 5 into your recycle bin, and you don’t even need to wash them first, though we recommend it to be safe. However, this policy can vary significantly from municipality to municipality, with some recycling centers only accepting #1 and #2 plastics, so it’s usually best to check with your local center to learn the guidelines. We also recommend contacting the center if you have #3, #6, or #7 plastic, to learn how to dispose of it properly.

Are My Straws and Lids Recyclable?

Plastic Cup
Image Credit: Pixabay

The straw and lid are often made from the same plastic as the cup and are recyclable, though not always. The top usually has a recycling number, but it’s not always on a straw. If you aren’t sure what kind of plastic it is, we recommend taking it to your local recycling center to find out. We also recommend sorting out your cups, lids, and straws before placing them in a recycling bin.

Are Paper Cups Recyclable?

Many paper cups are indeed recyclable. However, some brands have a thin plastic coating on the inside, and most recycling plants don’t have the equipment to separate the plastic from the paper, so these cups are not recyclable. Some cups also have a wax coating on the inside, preventing recycling companies from recycling them. However, coffee sleeves that accompany many hot beverages are almost always recyclable.

Tips for Reducing Plastic Use

  • Switch to a reusable cup instead of a single-serve plastic cup. Many popular coffee chains will allow you to purchase a refillable mug that you can use for future orders. Some will even allow you to use a cup that you didn’t purchase from them.
  • Avoid using Styrofoam cups when possible.
  • Write to your favorite coffee shops and other chains, and let them know that you’re interested in them using recyclable plastic.

divider 4 Conclusion

Many plastic cups are recyclable, but some are not, and it often comes down to the capabilities of your local recycling center. You can usually recycle #1, #2, #4, and #5 plastic. Plastic with a recycling number 3 or 6 must usually go into the trash. You can also recycle many lids and straws, but we recommend consulting your local recycling center if you’re unsure what type of plastic they are.

Featured Image Credit: Pixabay


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