We all want to do the right thing when it comes to recycling. After all, it makes us feel good to know we’re diverting materials from the already-overflowing landfills. But sometimes we inadvertently cause more problems than we solve when we toss items into recycling that contaminate the rest of the goods in the bin. For example, when a material that has come into contact with food rolls down the conveyor belt at the recycling plant, workers have to pull other perfectly acceptable recyclable items from the line simply due to cross-contamination. Yogurt containers are one such item that leave us feeling a little helpless in our efforts to do the right thing. While they do come into contact with food, they may still be recyclable. Then again, they may not.

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yogurt shelves at grocery store

Even if you understand the policy regarding single-use food containers in your area, you have the added ongoing conflict surrounding those little numbers on the bottom of plastic containers. Can you recycle a number 4? Are the containers of one yogurt brand recyclable while others are not? The answer is not black and white. In fact, almost no two recycling centers have the same standards when it comes to what they will or will not accept. The good news is that you can erase the question mark regarding the best way to deal with yogurt containers in your area.

Related: DIY: Make delicious homemade yogurt in your slow cooker

plastic containers scattered around

Step 1. Know your plastic

The first step in the process is to investigate the identifying number on the bottom of your container. Yes, these are likely different from one brand to another. Beyond that even, some brands have more than one plastic type for different products. Numbers one and two are commonly recyclable. Number three is rarely recyclable. Number four is commonly recyclable, but perhaps not via curbside pickup. Number five is hit and miss for mainstream recyclability. Number six is rarely recyclable or recycled and is bad for the environment. Finally, number seven is a mixture of plastics that is rarely recyclable. Yogurt containers are most commonly number 5 or 6 plastic, which does nothing to answer the question as to whether you can recycle it or not.

recycling center

Step 2. Contact your recycle center

The most accurate answer to your query will come directly from your local curbside recycling provider. While some will accept packaging labeled one to seven, some will only take non-food plastic. Yet, others only commit to the cleaner numbers one or two. Check out the website or send them an email. You can also give them a call, but note that many times the centralized call center won’t have reliable information about the recycling in your area. Facilities vary widely from one location to the next. Plus, protocol is constantly changing based on many factors, most recently the limitations implemented by China.

Whole Foods Market sign

Step 3. Alternatives

The short answer here is that there is no easy answer, and it depends on both the capabilities of the facility and the plastic used in the production of the yogurt container. If your curbside service doesn’t allow it, look for a local facility that does accept lower grade plastic. If you have a Whole Foods in your area, look for Gimme 5 drop boxes near the front of the store or mail your clean, empty yogurt cups back to Preserve.

yogurt in a glass container with bowl of oatmeal and honey near by

Step 4. Other alternatives

If you don’t find a viable way to recycle your plastic yogurt containers, it might be time to switch to a brand that serves it up in glass instead. Alternately, you can easily make your own yogurt with recipes that allow it to sit in the oven overnight. Or you can rely on a yogurt maker or Insta-pot for the same effect.

Of course, yogurt containers can be useful around the house, too. Here are just a few ways you can put them to work:

  • If they have a lid, use them to store paper clips, thumb tacks, hair bands, buttons, cotton balls, jewelry when you travel and any number of other small items throughout the house and garage.
  • Used yogurt containers can also be used for other food items. Pack your nuts, berries or Goldfish in them, or take your dressings, sauces and dips on the road.
  • Due to the size and shape of yogurt containers, they’re great for pantry items like flour and also cleaning products like the bucket of Oxy-clean or dishwasher detergent.
  • For gardening, poke a few holes in the bottom, fill with soil and add seeds. Yogurt cups make a great small and available planter when you’re starting out plants prior to transplant.
  • If you have children, yogurt containers might be the only bath toy you need. Prepare for endless filling and dumping or drill holes in the bottom so your child can watch it run through. They are also great in the sandbox when building a castle or just watching the sand cascade to the earth.
  • Crafting— yogurt containers can reign in small supplies like tiny clips, stickers or googly eyes. Plus, they make great containers for Play-doh or fingerpainting when the kids are looking for an artsy outlet.

Even without a clear cut answer as to whether your yogurt containers are recyclable, you can have a plan to make conscientious purchases (avoid number 6 and buy glass if you can), locate more information about local recycling resources and find ways to upcycle your containers to provide more than a single use.

Via Preserve, LifeHacker

Images via Shutterstock