Ein triangle of three arrows is the symbol for recycling. However, the recycling economy for plastic, which has been widely praised by the industry, is a “myth”, according to a report published on Monday by the environmental protection organization Greenpeace USA.
As a result, of the 51 million tons of plastic waste that American homes generate each year, only 2.4 million tons are recycled, or about 5 percent. In 2014, the recycling rate had reached a record high of ten percent. According to the report, however, it is falling again, especially since China stopped accepting western plastic waste in 2018. The production of new, non-recycled plastic, on the other hand, is increasing. It’s cheaper to make and better quality.
Much is considered non-recyclable
According to research by Greenpeace, only two types of plastic are accepted at recycling plants in the United States: polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is often used for water bottles, and high-density polyethylene (HDPE), which is found in shampoo bottles, among other things. The two are numbered “1” and “2” according to a standardized system in which there are seven types of plastic.
However, just because a plastic item is accepted into recycling facilities does not mean that it is actually recycled, the report states. The recycling rate is marginal for PET at 20.9 percent and for HDPE at 10.3 percent – and has also fallen slightly compared to 2020.
The plastic types 3 to 7, including coffee mugs, children’s toys and to-go containers, are even less than five percent recycled. While these products often bear the three arrows recycling symbol, they are not considered recyclable under the Federal Trade Commission classification. This is because a product is only considered recyclable if the appropriate recycling facilities are accessible to a “substantial majority” of the population, i.e. at least 60 percent. In addition, the collected items must be able to be used to craft new items. This is not the case with plastic in groups 3 to 7.
Five reasons why plastic recycling has failed
“Companies have been pushing for recycling as a solution. In doing so, they have absolved themselves of any responsibility,” Greenpeace USA campaign director Lisa Ramsden told AFP. Coca-Cola, Pepsi Co, Unilver and Nestlé are the main culprits.
In the report, Greenpeace gives five reasons why recycling plastic is a “failed concept”: Plastic waste is produced in huge quantities and is extremely difficult to collect. Plastic waste cannot be mixed and recycled. The recycling process itself is harmful to both the environment and the workers. Due to contamination with other types of plastic, recycled plastic cannot be turned back into food-grade material. In addition, the process is very expensive. However, the problem does not lie in the concept or process of recycling, but in the plastic itself, writes Greenpeace. “It’s the plastic recycling that doesn’t work.”
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