Clamshells can’t recycle

The other day I received this question:

Do you have a line on somewhere, someone, who will recycle those clear plastic clamshells that blueberries and strawberries and the like come in at the grocery store? I figured if anyone knew, it’d be you! O they’re piling up…

As I responded at the time, I have to confess that I have a stack of plastic clamshells on my laundry room shelves, just waiting for a home. The question prompted me to research all the recycling options. I was certain I’d find something, even if we’d have to mail the clamshells in some place, as with Tyvek envelopes.

The short answer? No.

I looked all over our municipal recycler’s site, called two of the local recycling companies they refer to, and did extensive Web searching. Here’s how Denver Recycles explains why we can’t recycle clamshells:

Plastics vary greatly by their resin types and how they are manufactured. Plastic are categorized into seven general resin types. There are also two common manufacturing processes, plastic bottles are “blow molded;” whereas, most plastic tubs are “injection molded.”  As a result of the different resin types, the different manufacturing processes, and the different mixes of chemical additives (dyes, plasticizers, UV inhibitors, softeners, adhesives and more) plastics melt at different temperatures, have different physical properties and as such need to be recycled differently.

I did come across this article reporting that the market for recycling plastic tubs is growing. That change is reflected in an increasing number of municipalities across the nation now accepting yogurt tubs. Ours doesn’t, but double check with yours to see if they do — or put the pressure on! Most of them do not accept lids, so reuse the lids as coasters, plant trays, or stencils for your local teacher’s kids to draw perfect circles.

Also, in my research, I came across these resources:

  • The company that makes soda-can six-pack rings has an elaborate program to encourage schools to collect the rings for recycling, including a game called “The Ringleader.” Click through to check it out and rope your kids into helping.
  • Our local recycling leader, Eco-Cycle, has a hard-to-recycle materials directory that provides links to some great resources for recycling unusual materials.
  • If your clamshells are made out of #6 plastic, you can make your own shrinky-dinks with the material — this site goes into experiments on the how.

Designers are working on ways to get rid of clamshell and ‘oyster’ packaging for products. This article about the change includes the quote that says it all:

“Clamshell packaging is so over,” says Wendy Jedlicka, a packaging designer. “We know it sucks. We’re fixing that.”

But as for the berries, they’re still packed in clamshells, and apparently, there’s nothing to be done with the clamshells. I guess it’s yet another reason to plant your own berry bushes, buy from a local vendor or pick-your-own place that puts the berries in an old-fashioned paper tub, or perhaps buy frozen berries and recycle the plastic bag they come in.


6 thoughts on “Clamshells can’t recycle

  1. sam says:

    Check with your local elementary/middle/high schools art teachers. When I was in the elementary setting, I LOVED these for various projects (and for storage).

    Sam @ LG

  2. Ellen Moeller says:

    We give them back to the farmer. They’re happy to have them so they don’t have to buy new ones all the time. Same with egg cartons.

    Thanks for the reminder-I need to get the kids and go berry picking SOON!

  3. Jenna says:

    There’s a reason the dratted things are still so popular with packagers – however nasty they may be to the environment, they DO keep berries from major squishage issues. (Say THAT 3x fast! lol) So these days I just take my shells with me to the U-pick farms and refill them until I can’t stand the sight of berries. Easier to stack in the cooler on the way home, easy to divy up, easy to send home with family members afterwards.

    During the winter months? They tend to congregate in my sewing room as odds & ends wranglers.

  4. L'an says:

    I heard a comment earlier today that in a lot of instances, recycling plastic is in itself a really toxic process because it involves the usage of lots of additional chemicals. I’m not sure how much stock to put into that wisdom, and I’m not feeling inclined to do the research to confirm or deny, but I’m curious whether you’ve ever heard anything along these lines?

    As for what to do with the existing clamshells… and jumping on the re-using bandwagon of the other posters… would your CSA or one of the local U-Pick places accept them?

  5. cheaplikeme says:

    Don’t know about the recycling or the CSA. The only pick-your-own I’ve been to uses paper cartons, which I have used and returned to them, but it’s worth an ask — or asking the local independent market if they’d take them back. Like so many things, I start realizing how many we’ve used after I start saving them and they pile up!

  6. Margaret says:

    Thanks for the legwork, Susanna. So the clamshells will continue to stack until I find uses for them. Sure wish we could reliably grow blueberries in our part of Colo. Dang that alkaline soil. For the other plastic numbers, we’ll be making a pilgrimage to Ecocycle next month to bring things like tubs and milk cartons – we let them stack up and then take a trip to Boulder, have breakfast at Dushanbe, hit the farmer’s market, go for a hike at Chautaqua, etc. They take a few other exotic things that no one else seems to up here. Eco-day-trip!!

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