Only 5% of the mountains of plastic waste American homes produced last year were recycled, according to new research by Greenpeace.
Americans disposed of 51 million tons of wrappers, bottles and bags in 2021 — about 309 pounds of plastic per person — about 95% of which ended up in landfills, the oceans, or scattered into the atmosphere in tiny toxic particles.
The plastic problem isn’t just due to consumerism or laziness — in fact, it would still be bad even if every household separated and disposed of every single piece of plastic at a dedicated recycling plant, according to Greenpeace.
The report found that no single type of plastic packaging in the United States meets the definition of recycling used by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Initiative.
Even plastics that have long been considered recyclable – bottles and jugs (PET #1 and HDPE #2) – are well below the 30% recycling rate needed to meet the institution’s recycling definition. The reprocessing rate for leftover plastics that millions of people use every day to pack leftovers, take out or return unwanted online purchases is less than 5%.
The recycling hoax will infuriate those who have spent time washing plastic containers and bottles in earnest, thinking they will end up reprocessing them and making them into other plastic packaging that the world may not have needed.
Companies such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé and Unilever have worked with leading industry groups to promote plastic recycling as a solution to plastic waste for decades. But the data is clear: In practice, most plastics are not recyclable. “The real solution is to switch to reuse and refill systems,” said Lisa Ramsden, a plastics activist with Greenpeace USA.
The report, Circular Claims Fall Flats, updates a 2020 survey of 370 recycling plants that found that most plastics were not widely accepted, and even bottles and jugs were not completely recycled or recycled. Not much has changed, in fact, the official US recycling rate has fallen from 9.5% in 2014 and 8.7% in 2018. At that time, the US, like many countries, exported millions of tons of plastic waste to China and considered it recycled over Although many of them were burned or dumped.
After China stopped accepting plastic waste in 2018 because it was essentially rubbish, and too dirty to be recycled, the capacity shortfall was never compensated while plastic use continued to rise.
But exporting plastic has always been a wrong solution, as is plastic recycling because plastic waste is so ubiquitous that it is difficult to collect, nearly impossible to sort, harmful to the environment, expensive to reprocess, and often contains toxic substances.
On the other hand, paper, cardboard, metal and glass do not have these problems, which is why they are recycled at much higher rates.
Three decades later, the industry claims that plastic recycling is still in its infancy, according to Ramsden. “Instead of continuing to launder and mislead the American public, the industry should support an ambitious global plastics treaty that will eventually end the age of plastics.”
The treaty is currently being drafted, after more than 170 countries in March backed a landmark UN resolution to end plastic pollution, with a legally binding international agreement by 2024. It is hoped that the treaty will set the course for the plastics pollution crisis for generations to come, with packaging replacing reuse and reuse systems. packing or no packing at all.
If the status quo continues, global plastic use and waste will nearly triple by 2060 with a slight increase in plastic recycling, according to a recent report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
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