With an estimated 242 million metric tons of plastic generated every year, the majority of which coming from the United States, it may come as a shock to the average consumer that only about 9% of all plastic produced since 1950 has been recycled.
That means that 91% has been sent to incinerators, landfills, or left as litter, eventually ending up in the oceans. For as much of a fuss as everyone makes about recycling, from legislators to environmental companies, it’s a pretty difficult bite to swallow.
Clearly, the issue with recycling plastics is not a new one, but the difficulties have been exacerbated recently. With most global plastic recycling having moved to China in the mid 2000s, subsequently China is tightening the requirements for the acceptance of recyclables—they must be spotlessly clean, dry, and fastidiously sorted. This has led to enormous amounts of plastic that consumers set aside for recycling piling up in sorting yards, causing localized heavy littering and community complaints. Eventually, that plastic is sent to an incinerator or landfill, just so that something is done with it—the mentality truly becomes “out of sight, out of mind.”
So how did we get to this point? What exactly is so difficult about recycling plastics? Why is the general consumer led to believe that if they use a plastic straw in their frozen coffee beverage, they alone will be responsible for the deaths of 10 baby whales, or the extinction of 50 species of beetles in the Amazon, or even acid rains destroying historical monuments?
Extended Producer Responsibility: How the recycling “buck” keeps getting passed on.
The idea of extended producer responsibility (EPR) seems like it would be extremely effective if it were implemented in its purest form: leaving responsibility with the producers of plastic products throughout the lifetime of those products. If you produce plastic bags and one ends up in a fish’s belly, you are responsible for that fish and all ramifications that bag being there has.
The issue, however, is that legislators in the U.S. have already passed “EPR” bills such as the one proposed by the American Legislative Exchange Council. It was written by the packaging industry and does little to extend any responsibility to any producer of plastic products. Instead, the bill (and others like it) are vague, detailing far too little responsibilities for companies. This gives companies too much control over where fees are sourced from if one is assessed against them. However, the most egregious part of these bills is that most of them allow for “chemical recycling” of plastics, which isn’t so much a recycling process as it is a high temperature treatment that creates a low-grade fossil fuel or other chemical feedstock along with tons of toxic waste. It is touted by the companies that do the process and the politicians in their pockets as a “miracle innovation in plastic recycling technology”. Pyrolysis and gasification have been well understood for nearly 200 years, and when they are applied to plastics, they create huge health, environmental, economic, and social concerns.
So why does your average Joe believe that plastic recycling is easy, environmentally responsible, and the right thing to do? Well, this is because of one of the most successful American propaganda campaigns to date, starting in the 70’s with the infamous “Crying Indian” ad from the nonprofit Keep America Beautiful. The board-members of this organization are representatives from Dow, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Nestle and other companies whose profitability and production practices rely heavily on single use plastics. It was easier for these companies to convince consumers that they were the problem, not those manufacturing the plastics, so that they were able to continue making and profiting from them.
Holding Your Producers Responsible, and Ensuring Your Plastics are Recycled Properly.
As groups like Keep America Beautiful and more recently The Recycling Partnership (also headed by executives from Coke, Amazon, Exxon, and Dow) continue to convince the public that manufacturers hold zero responsibility in the plastic problem, manufacturers are given complete control over their own industry. The most responsible way to handle the issue, rather than hard reductions, is to re-educate or expand existing knowledge in the average consumer. That way the consumer is no longer fooled by the rhetoric put forward by these propaganda machines. This is where Evergreen Recycling comes in, at least for our clients and partners in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. We strive to be a resource that can answer any question, belay any misconceptions, and offer best practices advice so that the plastics our customers are recycling gets recycled, and not turned into a climate-change worsening fossil fuel, or worse.
DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION ABOUT RECYCLING WE CAN ANSWER FOR YOU? GET IN TOUCH!
When you partner with Evergreen, you are ensuring that your plastics have the best chance of being recycled. Sorting recyclables, with improper sorting being the most common reason batches of plastic recycling are rejected, is all handled for you. We ensure that your plastics are cleaned, dried, and sorted with other waste of the same kind. When recyclables arrive at the recycling plant, whether it be domestic or overseas, there is no reason that the lot should be rejected.
Encouraging Thinking Upstream in the Recycling Hierarchy
Although no solution to the current plastic problem is perfect, there are higher levels in the hierarchy that have a more mitigating effect on the final amount of plastics sent to landfills. The hierarchy is the same as it is for paper, check out our recent article for more information, but primarily, if we stop buying, manufacturers will stop producing. That is pure and simple economics of supply and demand. This is the most ideal situation. Not having more plastic to handle is better than having produced more, even if it’s a marginal amount at a time.
Also, finding second uses for any plastic packaging pieces or other plastic items you would typically toss as waste can keep that plastic out of the environmental toll cycle for at least a bit longer than it would have otherwise.
Concluding Thoughts: Recycle that buck back up!
Since groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council have passed the onus of recycling to you, the end consumer, let’s fight back with a united front. We encourage you to hold manufacturers responsible for the products they produce, as is only fair. Until the laws get changed though, feel free to partner with us for all your recycling and waste management needs. We guarantee proper management of all your solid waste, on your schedule and hassle free.