Plastic Clamshells in Fairfax County, VA: Try not to buy, DON’T RECYCLE, and reuse whenever possible.

They are everywhere: From packaging berries, grapes, tomatoes, and fresh herbs to restaurant leftovers and to-go meals.  And this type of plastic has been a real challenge to the recycling industry. In fact, according to the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR), as late as 2010, clamshells were not being recycled in significant amounts anywhere in the United States or Canada. Now however, according to the November 2016 issue of Plastics Recycling Update, recycling programs that include this material are available to more than 60 percent of the U.S. population. But not to Fairfax County residents.

Plastic clamshells are a type of blister packaging, but rather than have a backing of paperboard or thin foil, the clamshell folds onto itself and is made completely from thermoplastic, or plastic that has been heated into its current shape. In the
case of sold food items they may also have a paper label with information about the product.

The problem with recycling this plastic in Fairfax County is twofold: First of all, while many of these clamshells are made of PET, polyethylene terephthalate, or #1 plastic, which IS normally recycled in Fairfax County, the tec
hnology is set up to recycle bottle shaped PET, not the pie-shaped, square-, or rectangular-shaped clamshell. Secondly, some clamshells are made from polystyrene, or #6 plastic which is not recycled in the County.  So the second problem is that at the materials recovery facility (MRF), the optical sorting has difficulty distinguishing between the different plastics.

So, what is the environmentally conscious Fairfax Count
y consumer to do until Fairfax County recycling programs can handle this type of container? For one thing, try purchasing produce that does not come in a clamshell. Also, consider bringing a reusable container to restaurants where you anticipate you will be taking ho
me leftovers.

If you do end up with clamshells, here are some innovative ideas for how to reuse this type of plastic:  https://repurposeful.wordpress.com/2009/02/24/repurposing-repeat-offendors-plastic-fruit-containers/

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