Is Drip Irrigation Tubing Recyclable?

Every 10 years or so you’ll need to replace your drip irrigation tubing in your garden.  When you do, you’ll likely wonder whether you should put it in your recycling bin or your garbage bin.  Asking the internet if drip tubing is recyclable yields some mixed results.   We did a deep dive to got to the bottom of this for home gardeners.

The short answer is: No you should not recycle irrigation tubing. However the tubing material itself is recyclable. There may be a way for you recycle your drip irrigation tubing, which you can verify with your local recycling facility.

What Is Drip Irrigation Tubing Made From?

Unlike garden hoses, most drip irrigation tubing is made from linear low-density polyethylene (LDPE), also known as Plastic #4.  

Although technically recyclable, many recycling facilities are selective about the LDPE they recycle.  Less rigid LDPE, like plastic bags, are unfortunatley sent to the landfill.

Drip irrigation tubing, however, is on the fence of being rigid vs. non-rigid LDPE.  Some recycling facilities elect recycle it, some do not.   We suggest giving your waste management service a quick call to find out how they treat it in your area. 

Recycling Large Quantities of Drip Irrigation Line

Initial Google searches for whether drip irrigation tubing is recyclable will likely lead you to companies that offer a service to recycle drip line.

Companies like Toro based out of Minnesota or Netafim in California will send a truck to your location to pick up your drip irrigation for recycling

But these services are geared towards farmers who looking to dispose of drip irrigation tubing by the pound.  It’s not exactly cost effective for them to come pick up the 30 feet of tubing you had in your home garden.

How to Recycle of Small Quantities of Drip Irrigation Tubing

It’s not easy finding an answer to this simple question online.  So I  called my local waste management service here in Santa Cruz, CA to find out what they did with drip irrigation tubing.

I managed to connect with the recycling plant director who said that currently Santa Cruz is NOT recycling drip tubing.  Bummer!

He explained that the city’s recycling plant is relatively small and that they simply don’t have the manpower to separate out some items, even if they are recyclable.

See, non-rigid plastics create problems for the machines that sort and consolidate the plastic items sent in for recycling. They tangle and flatten easily making them prone to clog the machinery, often bringing their operations to a halt.

At many recycling plants, however,  if operators encounter a plastic bag that is stuffed with dozens of other plastic bags, they will often recycle it as it’s far less likely to clog the machine than individual bags are.

In order to pass non-rigid LDPE like drip irrigation tubing or plastic bags through a recycling machine, it needs to be consolidated.  Much like the plastic bag example just mentioned.

 That requires more manpower at the recycling plant than many small facities have.  So, if you live in a small town, they will likely, and unfortunately, send drip irrigation tubing to the landfill.

How to Consolidate Drip Tubing for Recycling Purposes

One thing home gardeners can do to increase the chances of drip irrigation passing into the recycling machine rather the garbage is to consolidate it themselves.  First make sure the tubing is rinsed clean of dirt and debris.

Next, try to wrap or wind it into a ball and tie it off so that it resembles one solid mass rather than a long tube. This makes it more likely for the machine operators to send it through they recycling machine rather than treat it as garbage.

The Verdict

Although the LDPE used to make drip irrigation tubing is recyclable, it’s often not economical for a waste facility to treat it as such.

Call the material recovery facility that handles your waste and ask them if drip irrigation tubing is recyclable or not.   If they say it’s treated as garbage, ask them if it would help if you tied it into a solid mass or ball.    There’s a good chance this could make the difference whether your drip tubing winds up in a landfill or not. 

If you’re unsure who to call, take a look at what company name is listed on the garbage cans that are provided to you by the city. That’s a good place to start.

Any other thoughts on whether drip irrigation tubing is recyclable or not? Feel free to leave them in the comments below.

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