Recycling plastic is practically impossible — and the problem is getting worse

According to a report by Greenpeace on the situation of plastic recycling in the United States, the great majority of plastic that people throw away in recycling bins ends up in landfills or worse.
The research references separate statistics that was released in May and showed that only 5% of plastic was really used to create new items. As more plastic is made, it is anticipated that this figure will decrease even more.
Greenpeace discovered that no plastic, not even soda bottles, which are frequently dumped into recycling bins, fits the criteria to be referred to as “recyclable” in accordance with the guidelines established by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation New Plastic Economy Initiative. No plastic has ever been recycled and reused at a rate anywhere close to the 30% required to meet that requirement.
“More plastic is being produced, and an even smaller percentage of it is being recycled,” says Lisa Ramsden, senior plastic campaigner for Greenpeace USA. “The crisis just gets worse and worse, and without drastic change will continue to worsen as the industry plans to triple plastic production by 2050.”

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For decades, Americans have been sorting their trash believing that most plastic could be recycled. But the truth is, the vast majority of all plastic produced can’t be or won’t be recycled. In 40 years, less than 10% of plastic has ever been recycled.

Experts in waste management claim that the cost of collecting and sorting plastic is the issue. The thousands of distinct varieties of plastic that exist today cannot be all melted down at once. After one or two usage, plastic likewise loses its quality. Greenpeace discovered that plastic grows more hazardous the more it is recycled.
On the other hand, it is inexpensive and simple to make new plastic. As a result, there aren’t many markets for plastic trash, which is a truth that the public hasn’t wanted to hear.
The general manager of Southern Oregon Sanitation, Trent Carpenter, claims that customers were dissatisfied when they were informed a few years ago that they could no longer accept any plastic trash other than soda bottles and jugs, such as milk containers and detergent bottles. They intended to place all of the plastic waste they had, including yogurt cups, bags, and strawberry containers, in their recycling bin.

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Look on the side of a highway sometime and you might see them. Or along the railroad tracks or a stream. Maybe even between your toes at the beach. Tiny pearl-shaped pieces of plastic, known as pellets, are the building blocks for almost everything plastic, and they’re everywhere.

“We had to re-educate individuals that a great deal of that material is ending up in a landfill,” Carpenter said. “It’s not going to a recycling facility and being recycled. It’s going to a recycling facility and being landfilled someplace else because [you] can’t do anything with that material.”
With so many various bins in public areas and reminders from their own communities to place their plastic in recycling bins, it has been challenging for the general people to understand that message.
In contrast to businesses that continue to tell customers that plastic, such as bags and containers, is being converted into new items, Carpenter said they wanted to be upfront with their customers and tell them the truth.
“Politically it’s easier to just say ‘Gosh, we’re going to take everything and we think we can get it recycled,’ and then look the other way,” Carpenter said of the other companies. “That’s greenwashing at its best.”
Due to the marks on the cups and containers, which are frequently referred to as “number 5s,” Greenpeace discovered a few facilities that are attempting to recycle them. But the figures are small. Although that type of plastic is accepted by 52% of recycling facilities in the U.S., the survey revealed that less than 5% of it is really recycled, with the remainder being dumped in landfills.
The oil and gas industry’s goals are at odds with the poor reprocessing rates. Industry lobbyists claim that by 2040, they intend to recycle every plastic item they produce into a new product. Industry representatives declined to explain in interviews with NPR how they intended to accomplish a 100% recycling rate.
Industry executives lied to the public about the viability of recycling plastic, according to a 2020 NPR investigation, despite the fact that their own reports indicated they were aware of this fact as early as the 1970s and 1980s.
When NPR contacted the industry lobbying organization American Chemistry Council for comment regarding the Greenpeace study, they did not answer.
Environmentalists and policymakers are currently campaigning for laws that outlaw single-use plastics as well as “bottle bills” that reward consumers for returning their plastic bottles. Although the measures encountered fierce opposition from lobbyists for the plastic and oil industries, they have successfully increased the recycling rates for plastic bottles in states like Oregon and Michigan.
“The real solution is to switch to systems of reuse and refill,” Ramsden said. “We are at a decision point on plastic pollution. It is time for corporations to turn off the plastic tap.”
After years of supporting plastic recycling, several environmental organizations express the hope that the public will one day recognize plastic for what it truly is: waste, and that people will consider alternative uses for it.


by: Miss Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter
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