I used to think that plastic water bottles could be infinitely recycled, that every time I tossed one into the blue bin, it eventually came out to be another plastic bottle. As it turns out, that’s not the case. Some materials can be recycled infinitely, but plastic isn’t one of them. So if a recyclable isn’t reborn as the original item, where does it go? I found out most recyclable items are recycled down, so your water bottle may turn into a fabric or material for a park bench. But can that park bench be recycled? Can my “recycled” notebook be re-recycled? Just how many times can that thing be recycled?

Plastic: Once or twice

Most of the time, plastic is recycled into a fabric because it is no longer recyclable after one use. The shoe or sweater made from plastic bottles can’t be thrown in your blue bin once it goes out of style. If it ends up in a landfill, it will break apart over time and will just sit there for eternity. So the next time you think it’s fine to buy plastics because they can be recycled, remember it’s a (usually) one-and-done process.

The plastics that can be recycled more than once are considered durable plastics. These are items like bottle caps. Unfortunately, once the bottle caps are turned into a recycled item, that recycled item has to be turned into a fabric and its recycled potential is over, just like the plastic from the bottle the cap originated on.

The plastics that are not made from nurdles, which are called bioplastics, are made from things like corn and potatoes. Nurdles are the very small orb-like pieces that are created and then melted down into your favorite plastic item. Since bioplastics do not contain nurdles, when they break apart, they actually break down — unlike fuel-based plastics. The great thing about bioplastics is they have an unlimited lifespan. If you melted a piece of bioplastic back down to its molding state, you can make any item you want. The only negative thing is they are not recyclable in a traditional sense; that is, they can’t be tossed in the blue bin on the curb. Although these are a step in the right direction, most bioplastic farmers and manufacturing companies still use petroleum and other fuel to grow the actual produce item the plastic will be…