New report lists 5 reasons to think plastic recycling is a ‘failed concept’: ScienceAlert


Plastic recycling rates are falling even as production increases, according to a Greenpeace USA report released on Monday that blasted industry claims that creating an efficient circular economy was a “fiction”.

Entitled “Circular Claims Fall Flat Again”, the study found that out of 51 million tons of plastic waste generated by American households in 2021, only 2.4 million tons were recycled, or about 5%.

After peaking at 10% in 2014, the trend is down, especially since China stopped accepting plastic waste from the West in 2018.

Virgin production – non-recycled plastic, that is – is increasing rapidly as the petrochemical industry expands, driving down costs.

“Industry groups and large corporations are pushing for recycling to be a solution,” Greenpeace USA activist Lisa Ramsden told AFP.

“By doing this, they shirk any responsibility” to make sure the recycling actually works, she added. She named Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Unilever and Nestlé as main offenders.

According to Greenpeace USA’s survey, only two types of plastic are widely accepted at the nation’s 375 material recovery facilities.

The first is polyethylene terephthalate (PET), commonly used in water and soda bottles; and the second is high density polyethylene (HDPE), seen in milk jugs, shampoo bottles and cleaning product containers.

These are numbered “1” and “2” according to a standardized system in which there are seven types of plastic.

But being recyclable in theory does not mean that the products are recycled in practice.

The report found that PET and HDPE products had actual reprocessing rates of 20.9% and 10.3%, respectively – both slightly down from Greenpeace USA’s last survey in 2020.

“3” to “7” plastic types – including children’s toys, plastic bags, product packaging, yogurt and margarine tubs, coffee take-out cups and food containers – have been reprocessed at rates below 5%.

Although they often carry the recycling symbol on their labels, products that use plastic types “3” through “7” do not meet the Federal Trade Commission’s classification of recyclable.

This is because recycling facilities of these types are not accessible to a “substantial majority” of the population, defined as 60%, and because the products collected are not used in the manufacture or assembly of new items.

According The reportthere were five main reasons why plastic recycling is a “failed concept”.

Economically unfeasible

First, plastic waste is generated in large quantities and extremely difficult to collect — as becomes clear during what the report called ineffective “volunteer cleanup stunts” funded by nonprofits such as “Keep America Beautiful.”

Second, even if all were collected, the mixed plastic waste cannot be recycled together, and it would be “functionally impossible to sort the trillions of consumer plastic waste produced each year”, according to the report. said.

Third, the recycling process itself is harmful to the environment, exposing workers to toxic chemicals and itself generating microplastics.

Fourth, recycled plastic carries risks of toxicity through contamination with other types of plastic in collection bins, preventing it from becoming a food-grade material again.

Fifth and finally, the recycling process is prohibitively expensive.

“The new plastic competes directly with recycled plastic, and it is much cheaper to produce and of higher quality,” said The report.

Ramsden called on businesses to support a global plastics treaty, which United Nations members agreed to create in February, and to adopt refill and reuse strategies.

“It’s not really a new concept – that’s how the milkman was, that’s how Coca-Cola got its drinks to people. They drank their drink, made the glass bottle, and it was sanitized and reused,” she said.

Some countries are leading the way, including India, which recently banned 19 single-use plastic items. Austria has set reuse targets of 25% by 2025 and at least 30% by 2030 for beverage packaging, while Portugal has also set the target of 30% by 2030 .

Chile is set to phase out single-use cutlery and make reusable bottles mandatory.

© Agence France-Presse

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