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Plastic recycling remains a ‘myth’, warns Greenpeace

  • Post category:Economy News
  • Reading time:3 mins read

According to this analysis, American homes generated 51 million tons of plastic waste in 2021, of which only 2.4 million tons were recycled.

The trend is down, especially since China stopped accepting plastic waste from the West in 2018, and at the same time recycling some of it. In addition, plastic production prices are falling due to a rapidly developing industry.

“Industry groups and large corporations have pushed to present recycling as a solution,” Lisa Ramsden of Greenpeace USA told AFP. “By doing this, they evaded responsibility,” she added, citing companies like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Unilever and Nestlé.

According to Greenpeace USA, only two types of plastics are accepted at most of the country’s 375 material recovery centers.

The first is polyethylene terephthalate (PET), commonly used for water and soda bottles, and the second is high-density polyethylene (PE-HD), used for example for shampoo bottles or household products.

These two types are categorized numbers 1 and 2, according to the standards used, which include a total of seven kinds of plastic.

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

According to the report, PET and PE-HD had refurbishment rates of 20.9 and 10.3 percent respectively — two numbers down from Greenpeace USA’s last survey in 2020.

In addition, type 3 to 7 plastics — which include plastic bags, children’s toys, yoghurt packaging, etc. — were reconditioned at rates below 5%.

Although marked with the symbol indicating possible recycling, these products using plastics 3 to 7 are not actually recycled enough to be classified as such by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Economically unsustainable

According to the report, the practice of plastic recycling is not working for five reasons.

First, because the amount of plastic waste is such that it is extremely difficult to collect them all.

Moreover, even if they were all recovered, since this waste cannot be recycled together, it would make it practically “impossible to sort trillions of products”, according to the report.

Third, plastic recycling processes are themselves harmful to the environment, exposing workers to chemicals and generating micro-plastics.

The fourth reason is that these recycled plastics cannot be reused to contain food, because of the risks of toxicity.

Finally, recycling is too expensive, according to the NGO. “New plastics are in direct competition with recycled ones”, and the former “are much cheaper to produce, for better quality”, underlines the report.

Lisa Ramsden called for favoring non-plastic containers that can be reused, and for companies to support an international treaty on plastic, the development of which was launched this year by the UN.

She pointed out that the problem regarding the recycling of plastics was unique, and did not apply to cardboard or metals.