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Recycling Plastics

When it comes to recycling, Philly has options but determining what can and can’t be recycled (especially when it comes to plastics) can be difficult to decipher. We’ve put together a guide on plastic recycling to provide tips and introduce you to two innovative startups dedicated to keeping plastic out of landfills and waterways.

Philadelphia offers free recycling bins to residents at six pick-up locations throughout the city. They recommend contacting the location first to ensure supply, as they may run out. If you’re not near a sanitation convenience center or they’re in short supply, Solo provides free recycling bins too! Just send us a note to schedule a time to pick up at our office in Center City. 

Hard vs Soft Plastics

Philadelphia has a single stream recycling system, meaning you can put all of your recyclables together in one bin — cans, glass, mixed paper, cardboard and most plastic containers — no need to sort or separate them. It will be collected the same day as trash day.

Hard plastics, such as bottles, milk and juice jugs, jars, soup cartons, boxed wine cartons, detergent and shampoo bottles, pump and spray bottles can all be recycled, as long as lids and containers are completely emptied and thoroughly rinsed. 

Soft plastic cannot be recycled. This includes disposable plates, cups, and takeout containers, bubble wrap, plastic packing peanuts, foam rubber and Styrofoam.  Ditto for plastic syringes. These materials have little or no value as raw materials, damage recycling equipment, and can even injure workers so you’ll need to dispose of them in your regular trash bin. 

The Numbers

When you look at labels for plastics, you’ll often see a number in the middle of a recycling symbol. These numbers are called resin identification codes. They’re an industry standard used to communicate the type of plastic that item is made from.

Typically, 1 (Polyethylene terephthalate), 2 (high-density polyethylene – HDPE) and 5 (polypropylene) are all recyclable through the city’s recycling system.

Plastic Bags

The city’s recycling program does not accept plastic bags. If you have them, safely recycle plastic bags by returning them to drop off locations at specially-marked recycling bins located at the front of supermarkets. Even better, just say “No” to plastic bags and bring your own reusable tote bag when you shop. 

Starting on July 1, 2021 the city of Philadelphia will begin implementing their much awaited ordinance on single-use plastic bags. While it won’t fully go into effect immediately (the website says prohibition will begin on October 1, 2021) the city is making steps towards a more sustainable future. They plan to fully enforce the ban on plastic bags by April 1, 2022. 

Rabbit Recycling

In 2018, brothers Brian and Matt Siegfried launched Rabbit Recycling in the Spring Garden neighborhood. They saw an opportunity to improve on municipal recycling. Their motto is “Empowering people to be better stewards of the earth.”

Image: Rabbit Recycling 

“The City only takes certain items and our list is much more extensive,” said Matt Seigfried. “Over 97% of household and business items that end up in landfills are made from a combination or single source sub-material(s): rubbers, plastics, metals, and fabrics. Through decomposition and separation, our team is able to increase the number of items recycled and reduce the number of items going to landfills.” 

Rabbit’s extensive list of acceptable items includes everything from shower curtains to sewing machines. “We take almost anything,” said Seigfried. They will haul away bedding, luggage, clothing, microwaves, foam pillows, etc. Note: all items must be clean. Collected materials are recycled, donated or reused. 

Customers may request a five or eighteen gallon container to be delivered to their residence or place of business. Pickup is arranged when the container is filled. They offer three different pricing options. On-demand service, a monthly subscription service and a special plan for businesses.

United By Blue

If you care about the environmental hazards of plastics entering our waterways, thank Philly entrepreneur Brian Linton’s for founding United by Blue. His philosophy? Change comes in waves. 

United By Blue was created in 2010 on the notion that a successful outdoor brand can do serious conservation work.  Today, they have two retail shops in Philadelphia and one in New York City, selling outdoor gear made of sustainably materials that are ethically manufactured. How does selling backpacks and outdoor clothing rid oceans and rivers of trash? “For every purchase, one pound of trash is removed from our waterways,” said Linton.

Image: United by Blue

To date, United by Blue has removed over three million pounds of trash from the ocean.  They started by hauling old tires, gathering plastic bottles, and picking up the bits of styrofoam that litter the shoreline. “We build community through our waterway cleanups, determined to spread the idea that if one business can make a difference, so can one person,” said Linton.  

“Ocean pollution is undeniably one of the most pressing issues of our time. The overwhelming amount of plastic in our waterways is polluting our beaches, choking our wildlife, and contaminating our drinking water,” he said. “We are committed to making a tangible impact, so we confront ocean trash in the most direct way we know how: by getting our hands dirty and removing it from the waterways. By mobilizing the community to join us, we aim to not only rid our shorelines of litter but also to inspire individuals to live less wasteful lives.”

For more information about recycling in Philly, read our article on Single-Stream Recycling In Philly. One of the best ways to help the environment is to build eco-friendly habits and find ways to minimize your waste footprint

Remark Glass: Raise Your Glass to Zero Waste

If you rinse every glass jar and bottle before placing it in your recycling bin, we have some bad news. Only 33% of that glass is actually recycled. The rest ends up in landfills. Now for the good news. Sister companies, Remark Glass and Bottle Underground, are determined to close the loop and make Philly a national leader in recycled glass.

Repurposing


Founded in 2016 by three talented glass artists, Remark Glass doesn’t just recycle glass, they repurpose it. In their studio in the Bok Building in South Philly, co-founders Danielle Ruttenberg, Rebecca Davies, and Mark Ellis, turn used bottles into stunning light fixtures, barware, dinnerware, and decorative bowls. “One of our top selling items is Keepsake Glass, commemorative bottles from a graduation, wedding, or anniversary that we turn into a serving bowl or a light fixture,” said Danielle who graduated from Tyler School of Art and previously operated a glass art business in Port Richmond. “We also work in our showroom with designers on light fixtures for homes and restaurants. Forin Café which is scheduled to open in June in Fishtown is buying recycled glassware from us,” she said. Their one-of-a-kind housewares also make a great housewarming gift for a new homeowner. Shop the available selection on their online shop or consider a custom project.

Recycling


As the first business in Philadelphia to be certified zero waste, Remark came up with a unique concept to bypass the shortcomings of the City’s glass recycling system. They created Bottle Underground, the non-profit arm of Remark, which offers an environmentally sustainable alternative to dumping used glass in landfills. “Bottle Underground offers pick-up service,” said Danielle. “We supply you with a bin to collect your glass. We just ask that you make sure all your glass is rinsed and there is no residue. You can leave the labels on. We take care of that. Once a month we will pick up your glass and return your empty bin.” There is a charge for the monthly pick-up service. “We are trying to make this as affordable as possible on a sliding scale for restaurants and corporations,” said Danielle. “We also welcome one-time drop-offs of clean, used, unbroken glass
bottles at our headquarters in the Bok Building. Just call in advance to schedule your delivery,” said Danielle.
“We accept any clean glass container and anything that has a reusable lid. We love Champagne bottles because the glass is thicker. We also look for blue glass and specialty colors,” she said.

A piece of glass being shaped into a new item. Image courtesy of Remark Glass.

Turning bottles into art


“Prepared pieces are placed in our kiln and heated to 1050 degrees Fahrenheit – this is considered warm in glass – the temperature is stable and the glass is still in its solid-state. From there, our team picks up the pieces, one at a time, on the end of a steel rod. The glass is rotated and heated in a 2000-degree reheating chamber, then tools are used at the bench to transform the material to its new shape,” explained Danielle. “Once the final shape is achieved, our team knocks the piece off the rod, stamps it with our logo, and carefully places it back into the kiln.” Co-founder Mark Ellis studied glass at the Tyler School of Art and worked in high-end glass and metal fabrication for over a decade. At Remark, he specializes in glass blowing and metal fabrication. Rebecca Davies, Mark’s wife, received an MFA at the University of the Arts, then worked at a blown glass lighting company. “We all pitch in,” said Danielle. “We have eight employees and everyone does their part to achieve our mutual goal. To build a better future and support the overall well-being of their community”. Remark Glass also strives to support the local economy by working with local businesses that share the same values.


Danielle Ruttenberg, Mark Ellis, and Rebecca Davies pose for a picture with glass bottles. Image courtesy of Remark Glass.

So, as Summer officially opens with coolers filled with beer and wine, think twice before tossing those bottles and consider dropping them off to Bottle Underground for reuse by Remark Glass instead. Reducing waste by composting food scraps, recycling what you can, and repurposing glass containers can help Philly achieve its zero-waste goal.

Interested. in learning other ways you can help reduce your environmental footprint? Check out our article on Four Ways to Minimize your Waste Footprint in Philadelphia or our list on 5 Things Philly Renters can do for the Environment.

Four Ways to Minimize Your Waste Footprint in Philadelphia

It’s difficult not to notice the amount of garbage piling up on residential streets in Philadelphia these days. Home waste is up between 25 and 50 percent in Philly due to people staying at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Streets Department is processing 3,000 more tons of garbage per week than usual on average.

Mountains of bags and bins are a frustrating sight, but it’s not solely up to the city to remedy the issue. We’re all responsible for keeping Philadelphia clean, and residents can help by reducing the amount of waste we generate. The Streets Department recommends these tips as a starting point, and we recommend a few additional steps that will help reduce waste long-term. 

Solo Real Estate is committed to sustainability and now more than ever, we’re encouraging you to join us in our mission to “love where you live” by helping keep Philly as beautiful as it can be. Help us lessen our overall environmental impact by reducing your trash output and changing the way you approach your day-to-day with these four ways to minimize your waste.

1.Build Eco-Friendly Habits

Now is a great time for all of us to assess our habits, and make some environmentally conscious changes that will reduce our waste footprint. Build eco-friendly habits by:

Donating: Rather than throwing away working household items, small appliances, and gently used clothing, donate them! Philly AIDS Thrift and Circle Thrift are two organizations in the city that accept donations and give your unwanted items a second life. If your pantry is cluttered with non-perishable food, you can donate that, too. Philabundance has an interactive map of the agencies in the city that you can work with.

Buying second hand: Reduction-based habits are the most effective, but reusing is also a great way to reduce your environmental impact. Purchase clothes and household items second hand, and you’ll be helping the planet, saving money, and finding unique items too. The thrift stores listed above have wonderful selections to suit any taste. 

Avoiding single-use items: Single-use items like plastic water bottles, styrofoam coffee cups, cutlery, containers, and straws pile up quickly. Replace disposable plastic water bottles with a reusable bottle and go straw-less or swap out plastic straws for metal or glass versions. Canvas totes are a no-brainer, but also consider the pre-packaged goods you buy and avoid items packaged in unnecessary layers of plastic and cardboard. That all adds up too.  

Avoid single-use items and opt for reusable alternatives like these metal straws.
Image: Open House

2.Start Composting

Food and yard scraps are compostable, yet they account for 28 percent of the waste that ends up in landfills in the United States, according to the EPA’s National Overview. Landfilling compostable material is a two-fold issue. For one, it takes up a lot of unnecessary space. Also, when it’s left to decay in a landfill, rather than compost properly, it releases methane gas — a major contributor to global warming. With that in mind, composting is a tremendously effective way to reduce the amount of trash you make.

Composting is increasing in popularity, with 27 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) having been composted in 2017, according to the EPA overview. However, 140 million tons of compostable MSW were landfilled that same year, so there’s plenty of room for improvement.

Do it yourself: If you have a garden space, you can compost and use it to supplement your soil. Clean PHL offers this comprehensive guide for setting up a home composting system that will steer you in the right direction. Generally, it comes down to installing a bin system to contain the compost, mixing nitrogen-rich materials (like fruit and vegetable peels, grass clippings, and other fresh yard scraps) with carbon-rich materials (like paper products, dead leaves, and egg shells), keeping them damp, and occasionally turning and mixing. 

Hire a service: If you don’t have a yard, garden, or enough space, you can still compost! There are two local services for residents of Philadelphia that will help. For an affordable price, Circle Compost and Bennett Compost will give you a customized five-gallon bin in which you can toss your compostable scraps, then they’ll collect it from your home on a regular schedule. Not sure if this is right for you? You can also sign up for a free one month trial to test it out.

Bennett Compost and Circle Compost make composting easy for Philadelphia's residents and businesses.
Bennett Compost and Circle Compost make composting easy for Philadelphia’s residents and businesses. Image: Bennett Compost

3.Buy Local

Waste is inevitable in each step of the food supply chain. According to NRDC research, up to 40 percent of food never survives its journey from farm to plate. If you want to help change that, the best thing you can do is shop locally. Local supply chains are shorter than their non-local counterparts, and that means higher percentages of products successfully make it from the farm to your table. 

Participate in the local food economy in any of the following ways:

Farmers’ markets: There are almost 40 farmers’ markets scattered throughout every neighborhood in Philadelphia. While we think of them as a summertime activity, many farmers’ markets remain open until around the holidays, and some move indoors through the winter. This article features a comprehensive list of all the farmers’ markets you can find in Philly.

CSAs: The community supported agriculture (CSA) model allows consumers to buy directly from farmers on a regular schedule, and that’s beneficial to everyone involved. Joining a CSA will give you the opportunity to build relationships with the farmers who produce your food, as well as help to ensure their financial security. You start paying for your share in a CSA at the beginning of the growing season, so the farmer has capital upfront to be able to operate. Come harvest time, a percentage of the yield will be yours, and you’ll receive your food (typically) on a weekly basis. 

The Lancaster Farm Fresh Co-op is one of the most well known and comprehensive CSAs accessible to Philadelphia residents, and there are a substantial number of others you can join, too. Do some research and find a CSA that’s right for you.

Alternatively, Philly Food Works is an easy-to-use, year round foodshare program that offers subscriptions and a la carte purchasing. Their program includes local produce, meat, dairy, baked goods, and more, and you can place orders directly through their website. 

While CSAs typically operate between spring and fall, there are several that go year-round, including Jack’s Farm for produce and Landisdale Farm for produce and meat. The Common Market runs through February and features a range of items from local farms.

Locally-conscious grocers: There are several brick-and-mortar grocery stores in the city that emphasize locally-sourced products. In North Philly, Riverwards Produce and Kensington Community Food Co-op offer a wide range of high-quality local items. In Mount Airy you can find Weavers Way and in West Philly, Mariposa Food Co-op should be your go-to.

Take an extra step to reduce waste at these stores by bringing your own bags, using the bulk bins, and purchasing their bags of discounted produce (produce that’s cosmetically damaged or bruised but is still perfectly good to eat). Beeswax wraps, like these colorful ones made locally by Supra Endura, are a great alternative to plastic wrap when it’s time to store your purchases. 

Beeswax wraps, like these made locally by Supra Endura, are a great sustainable alternative to plastic wrap. Image: Supra Endura
Beeswax wraps, like these made locally by Supra Endura, are a great sustainable alternative to plastic wrap. Image: Supra Endura

4.Recycle Right

After you reduce and reuse as much as you can, there will be items leftover that don’t fall into either of those categories and need to be thrown away. Take care to recycle properly.

Have the right type of container. In Philly, that can be any household bin that’s less than 32 gallons and has the word “recycling” written on it clearly and legibly. If you need a new bin, we have them for you at Solo Real Estate. Reach out to us if you’d like one, and we’ll arrange a pick up at our office.

Solo Real Estate recycling bins
Solo Real Estate Recycling Bins are available free of cost.

Fill it only with items that the city will accept. This includes emptied and rinsed plastics, paper products that aren’t in their plastic sleeves, emptied and rinsed cartons, certain types of metal, and glass bottles and jars. Take a look at the Streets Department’s website for a comprehensive list of acceptable recyclables. Some of the items that the city cannot process include plastic bags, styrofoam, tissues and paper towels, disposable plates, and light bulbs.

Put your recycling out only on pickup day. The city just rolled out a real-time tool for residents to view live trash and recycling collection updates. Use the map function on PickupPHL on garbage day to get a sense of where the trucks are, and if they’re going to be delayed that week. To avoid delays you can also drop off your trash and recycling directly at one of the city’s sanitation convenience centers.