The last several decades have seen a push for individual responsibility when it comes to saving the planet with a reduced carbon footprint, but how effective is recycling overall?
It turns out not much at all.
In fact, according to a recent report from Greenpeace USA, only about 6% of plastic household waste is being recycled in the United States. This leads them to conclude that plastic recycling is nothing more than a “myth” perpetrated by big oil, industry groups, and major corporations that would rather put the onus for change on individuals instead of themselves.
And get this – the percentage of recycled U.S. plastic waste is consistently dropping. It was 9.5% in 2017, then 8.7% in 2018.
Many types of plastic are not recyclable at all, at least not on a massive scale. The number in the arrows triangle recycling symbol on the packaging should tell you more.
One example is PET and HDPE, both widely used to make bottles and other containers for household products, which are largely accepted by a majority of recycling plants.
Others are rejected by nearly all of them instead, though individuals never realize this as the dutifully separate trash from recycling every single week. The reasons range from contamination by the materials they contain to simply cost, but either way, consumers are being fed a line.
The report claims that even the plastics that do get into the plants fail to be truly recycled, anyway.
In order to qualify, an item must have a 30% recycling rate. The two most common plastics in the States (listed above) have just a 20.9 and 10.3% rate, respectively, and other types are much lower, with reprocessing rates around 5% (or less).
“In short, no type of plastic packaging in the US meets the EMF NPE definition of ‘recyclable.”
They conclude, then, that the biggest plastic producers and other global corporations know they are spreading lies with the idea that the plastic pollution problem can be solved through recycling alone.
The reason is, of course, that the best way to reduce plastic waste is to avoid creating it in the first place.
“Corporations like Coca-Cole, PepsiCo, Nestle, and Unilever have worked with industry front groups to promote plastic recycling as the solution to plastic waste for decades. But the data is clear: practically speaking, most plastic is just not recyclable. The real solution is to switch to systems of reuse and refill.”
Like other environmental groups across the world, Greenpeace is attempting to sound the alarm before it’s too late.
“We are at a decision point on plastic pollution. It is time for corporations to turn off the plastic tap. Instead of continuing to greenwash and mislead the American public, industry should stand up on the right side of history this November and support an ambitious Global Plastics Treaty that will finally end the age of plastic by significantly decreasing production and increasing refill and reuse.”
Your move, Coca-Cola. The world will be watching.