Plastic Recycling in America is a Failed Enterprise, Industry Critics lay Some Facts

Since its discovery, plastic has dominated almost every aspect of human life from takeout containers, plastic bags to clothes and food packaging. Little did we know back then about how it would affect our health and the environment. However, the reality today has struck us hard as plastic has polluted food, water, air and infiltrated human organs as well, which compelled us to look for methods to deal with the gigantic pile of plastic waste we have generated. Enter recycling!

Recycling came as a ray of hope, with many people and countries recycling and reusing their plastic material to reduce the carbon footprint. As one of the leading producers and consumers of plastic, America also stepped into plastic recycling. But how much does the country recycles? Let’s dive into the statistics.

Earlier this year, a study said that of the estimated 44 million tons of plastic waste generated in the US in 2019 domestically, about 86 percent ended up in landfills, 9 percent was burned, and only 5 percent was recycled. This amount of waste generation multiplied horrifyingly during the coronavirus pandemic.

Plastic Recycling in America is a Failed Enterprise, Industry Critics lay Some Facts

Image: Open Edition

Talking about the nation’s recycling rate, Judith Enck, president of the advocacy group Beyond Plastics, said;

It is dismally low. In the whole history of plastics recycling, it never ever got to double digits — it never got to 10%. There are thousands of different types of plastics, and they are all different polymers, with different chemical additives and different colorants…It’s not homogenous. You can’t mix that all together and get a usable product. A lot of times, when the recyclables make it to the recycling facility … a lot of it is garbage.

Beyond Plastics and The Last Beach Cleanup examined government data from the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and on US exports to come up with a recycling estimate, and found that only 5-6 percent of plastic made in the US is recycled.

Another issue with plastic recycling is that the process is incredibly hard, unlike paper, metal, or glass. The recycling of plastics has always fallen short as compared to other materials. According to the EPA, the percentage of recycled cardboard and paper increased from 21 percent to 68 percent from 1980 to 2018. Glass recycling increased from 5 percent to 25 percent. In the meantime, plastic recycling only managed to increase from 1 percent to less than 10 percent.

Moreover, collecting, sorting and processing plastic waste is a gigantic task. Another factor discouraging plastic recycling is the cost of the process. Virgin plastic is much cheaper than recycled plastic, which makes it unappealing to the industry.

Via: CBS News

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