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Plastic recycling a “failed concept,” study says, with only 5% recycled in U.S. last year as production rises

Recycling plastic is not as efficient as you assume


Why recycling plastic is not as efficient as you assume, in keeping with trade critics

01:57

Washington — Plastic recycling charges are declining even as production shoots up, in keeping with a Greenpeace USA report out Monday that blasted trade claims of making an environment friendly, round economic system as “fiction.”

Titled “Circular Claims Fall Flat Again,” the study discovered that of 51 million tons of plastic waste generated by U.S. households in 2021, only 2.4 million tons have been recycled, or round 5 p.c. After peaking in 2014 at 10 p.c, the development has been lowering, particularly since China stopped accepting the West’s plastic waste in 2018.

Virgin production — of non-recycled plastic, that’s — in the meantime is quickly rising as the petrochemical trade expands, decreasing prices.

“Industry groups and big corporations have been pushing for recycling as a solution,” Greenpeace USA campaigner Lisa Ramsden informed AFP.

“By doing that, they have shirked all responsibility” for making certain that recycling really works, she added. She named Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Unilever and Nestle as prime offenders.


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According to Greenpeace USA’s survey, only two sorts of plastic are extensively accepted on the nation’s 375 materials recovery services.

The first is polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is usually used in water and soda bottles; and the second is excessive density polyethylene (HDPE), seen in milk jugs, shampoo bottles and cleansing product containers. These are numbered “1” and “2” in keeping with a standardized system in which there are seven plastic varieties.

But being recyclable in principle doesn’t suggest merchandise are being recycled in apply.

The report discovered that PET and HDPE merchandise had precise reprocessing charges of 20.9 p.c and 10.3 p.c, respectively — each down barely from Greenpeace USA’s last survey in 2020.

Plastic varieties “3” by way of “7” — together with kids’s toys, plastic baggage, produce wrappings, yogurt and margarine tubs, espresso cups and to-go meals containers — have been reprocessed at charges of lower than 5 p.c.

Despite typically carrying the recycling image on their labels, merchandise that use plastic varieties “3” by way of “7” fail to satisfy the Federal Trade Commission classification of recyclable.

This is as a result of recycling services for these varieties aren’t accessible to a “substantial majority” of the inhabitants, outlined as 60 p.c, and since the collected merchandise usually are not getting used in the manufacturing or meeting of latest gadgets.


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According to the report, there have been 5 most important the explanation why plastic recycling is a “failed concept.”

First, plastic waste is generated in huge portions and is extraordinarily troublesome to gather — as turns into clear throughout what the report referred to as ineffective “volunteer cleanup stunts” funded by nonprofits such as “Keep America Beautiful.”  

Second, even when it have been all collected, combined plastic waste can’t be recycled collectively, and it might be “functionally impossible to sort the trillions of pieces of consumer plastic waste produced each year,” the report mentioned.

Third, the recycling course of itself is environmentally dangerous, exposing staff to poisonous chemical substances and itself producing microplastics.

Fourth, recycled plastic carries toxicity dangers by way of contamination with different plastic varieties in assortment bins, stopping it from changing into food-grade materials once more.

Fifth and eventually, the method of recycling is prohibitively costly.

“New plastic directly competes with recycled plastic, and it’s far cheaper to produce and of higher quality,” mentioned the report.

Ramsden referred to as on firms to help a Global Plastics Treaty, which United Nations members agreed to create in February, and transfer towards refill and reuse methods.

“This isn’t actually a new concept — it’s how the milkman used to be, it’s how Coca-Cola used to get its beverages to people. They would drink their beverage, give the glass bottle back, and it would be sanitized and reused,” she mentioned.

Some international locations are main the best way, together with India, which not too long ago banned 19 single-use plastic gadgets. Austria has set reuse targets of 25 p.c by 2025 and at the least 30 p.c by 2030 for beverage packaging, whereas Portugal has additionally set the 30 p.c by 2030 aim. Chile is shifting to section out single-use cutlery and mandating refillable bottles.

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