06 June 2022

"Plastic recycling will never work"

Excerpts from an Atlantic article written by a former EPA administrator and a chemical engineer:
"Although some materials can be effectively recycled and safely made from recycled content, plastics cannot. Plastic recycling does not work and will never work...

The first problem is that there are thousands of different plastics, each with its own composition and characteristics. They all include different chemical additives and colorants that cannot be recycled together, making it impossible to sort the trillions of pieces of plastics into separate types for processing...

Just one fast-food meal can involve many different types of single-use plastic, including PET#1, HDPE#2, LDPE#4, PP#5, and PS#6 cups, lids, clamshells, trays, bags, and cutlery, which cannot be recycled together. This is one of several reasons why plastic fast-food service items cannot be legitimately claimed as recyclable in the U.S...

Unlike metal and glass, plastics are not inert. Plastic products can include toxic additives and absorb chemicals, and are generally collected in curbside bins filled with possibly dangerous materials such as plastic pesticide containers...

Yet another problem is that plastic recycling is simply not economical...

Despite this stark failure, the plastics industry has waged a decades-long campaign to perpetuate the myth that the material is recyclable. This campaign is reminiscent of the tobacco industry’s efforts to convince smokers that filtered cigarettes are healthier than unfiltered cigarettes...

If the plastics industry is following the tobacco industry’s playbook, it may never admit to the failure of plastics recycling. Although we may not be able to stop them from trying to fool us, we can pass effective laws to make real progress. Single-use-plastic bans reduce waste, save taxpayer money spent on disposal and cleanup, and reduce plastic pollution in the environment.

Consumers can put pressure on companies to stop filling store shelves with single-use plastics by not buying them and instead choosing reusables and products in better packaging. And we should all keep recycling our paper, boxes, cans, and glass, because that actually works.


  1. Every time I throw away plastic these days, I feel a sense of throwing away my children's future. It's almost impossible to avoid. They even bring plastic trinkets home from school.

  2. I had read that article when it came out. I also watched this about plastics recycling in Germany. I think it depends on how much you want to do it? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_fUpP-hq3A 15:51 Recycling plastics – Resource efficiency with an optimized sorting method

  3. Our total energy use is insane and recycling is very energy intensive. We should be avoiding creating systems that rely on recycling as the norm for packaging, etc. But, as far as I can tell this is a fantasy at this point. Though us old folks remember the days when natural food stores operated with reusable containers and bags. What a concept.

  4. "Plastic recycling will never work"

    And yet other countries in the world recycle much more than the US. And the EU is working very hard to reduce the consumption of plastic. Where did the "can do" spirit of America go?

    plastic recycling is simply not economical...

    It should be noted that this is a political choice, not an unchangeable fact of life. Now, I realize that with the current state of American politics, this may at the moment even be an unchangeable fact of political life in the US, but that does not mean that this can not change.

    Y'all just need to start voting for radically different politicians.

    And not only on the federal level, but especially so on the local level. Vote for school board members who will work on reducing the enormous amount of waste created in the (very worthy) school lunch programs. If kids can drink from a glass at home, why can't they in school? Look at what the French are doing.

    Vote for village, city and county officials that will improve recycling programs. And on the state level start voting for people who are NOT working to reduce gas prices. High gas prices are GOOD for the environment. High gas prices are an incentive to stop buying gas guzzling cars with 25mpg, and start buying hybrids that to >50, or electric cars.

    I had to rent a car last week. As expected, my reserved choice was not available, and my choices were a minivan or a truck? Why can't I pick an electric car?

    All these things are happening elsewhere. Make them happen here and catch up to the rest of the world. You used to lead the world. You are falling behind.

    Do something about it.

    1. As I recall, Europeans use about three Earths per capita and US citizens about five. No one in the world is seemingly willing to cut consumption to the point it needs to be cut. Electric cars are a great example of a phantom solution. Here are two things most everyone in the world could to today and won't: Never get on another plane and stop eating meat. Big impact and very easy. Not gonna happen as far as I can tell. If we can't/won't do easy stuff, how the hell do Americans cut consumption by 80%? I simply don't believe we can big solution/tech our way out of this. Sacrifice is required.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...