Recycling plastics, how effective is it currently at saving the world.
We’re drowning in plastic.
In 2017, the U.S. produced nearly 35.4 million tons of the rubbish, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
But what happens after you put plastic containers into a recycling bin?
Unfortunately, the outcome isn’t as green as many people think; recycling is unlikely to give plastic to-go containers new life, said John Hocevar, a marine biologist with Greenpeace
Of all the waste produced in 2017, only 8.4% of it eventually got recycled, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The people aren’t the problem they want to recycle the problem is the United States simply doesn’t have the proper infrastructure to deal with it.
“In most of the country, most types of plastic are not recyclable,” Hocevar told Live Science.
A recent report released by Greenpeace surveyed the United States’ 367 materials recovery facilities — the facilities that sort our recycling — and found that only plastic bottles are regularly recycled. The fate of most other types of plastic, from clamshells to packaging, is usually a landfill or incineration.
Not all plastic is created equal. If you turn over a clear plastic bottle, like those used to hold ketchup or laundry detergent, you’ll notice a number “1” inside a triangular recycling symbol — that means it’s made of a material called PET (polyethylene terephthalate). Opaque jugs, like the kind that hold milk, get a “2,” meaning they’re made of a material called HDPE (high-density polyethylene). At materials recovery facilities, or MRFs, plastics get sorted based on these numbers (they go up to 7), which designate how recyclable they are.
Numbers 1 and 2 are relatively recyclable. These materials get chopped up, melted into pellets and sold to manufacturers for reuse.
Theses pellets can be made into carpet, clothing, plastic packaging,” as well as other products.
Recycling gets more complicated with higher numbers, called “mixed plastic. This waste makes up around 69% of all the plastic we use. It’s much more expensive and energy intensive to process higher numbers than numbers 1 and 2. In the past, many recycling facilities would export mixed plastics, often to China. But two years ago, China banned the import of foreign plastic waste.
Recycling facilities had to scramble to find a new market. Many failed. For example, in Los Angeles, recycling facilities still won’t process any plastics with numbers higher than 2. Instead, MRFs are dumping them in landfills or incinerators, The Guardian reported last year.
What the United States needs now is infrastructure equipped to process other kinds of plastic. But Hocevar envisions a different solution: a resounding “no” on numbers 3, 4, 6 and 7. These plastics just gunk up an already strained recycling system, he said.
“It does more harm than good”.