Washington – Plastic recycling rates are declining even as production increases, according to a Greenpeace USA report on Monday that blasted the industry’s claims of creating an efficient, circular economy as “fantasy.”
Titled “Circular Claims Fall Flat Again,” the study found that of the 51 million tons of plastic waste generated by American households in 2021, only 2.4 million tons were recycled, or about five percent. After reaching 10 percent in 2014,Especially since China stopped accepting plastic waste from the West in 2018.
virgin production – that of non-recyclable plastics, ie – is meanwhile growing rapidly becausecutting costs.
“Industry groups and large corporations are pushing recycling as the solution,” Lisa Ramsden, a Greenpeace USA campaigner, told AFP.
“By doing so, they have absolved all responsibility” of making sure the recycling actually works, she said. He named Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Unilever and Nestle as the main culprits.
According to a Greenpeace USA survey, only two types of plastic are widely accepted in the country’s 375 material recovery facilities.
The first is polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is commonly used in water and soda bottles; And the other is high-density polyethylene (HDPE), which is seen in milk jugs, shampoo bottles and cleaning product containers. These are numbered “1” and “2” according to a standardized system that contains seven types of plastics.
But being recyclable in theory does not mean that the products are being recycled in practice.
The report found that the actual reprocessing rates for PET and HDPE products were 20.9 percent and 10.3 percent, respectively – both slightly lower than Greenpeace USA’s last survey in 2020.
Plastic types “3” to “7” — including children’s toys, plastic bags, product wrapping, yogurt and margarine tubs, coffee cups and on-the-go food containers — were reprocessed at a rate of less than five percent. .
Often, products using plastic types “3” to “7” fail to meet the Federal Trade Commission’s classification of recyclables, despite often having a recycling symbol on their label.
This is because these types of recycling facilities are not available to a “substantial majority” of the population, which is defined as 60 percent, and because the collected products are not being used in manufacturing or assembling new items. .
According to the report, there were five main reasons for the “failed concept” of plastic recycling.
First, plastic waste is generated in large quantities and extremely difficult to collect – as becomes clear during a report entitled “Volunteer Cleanup Stunt” ineffective funded by nonprofits such as “Keep America Beautiful”. .
Second, even if all of this is collected, mixed plastic waste cannot be recycled all at once, and “sorting the trillions of pieces of consumer plastic waste produced each year would be functionally impossible,” the report said.
Third, the recycling process itself is harmful to the environment, exposing workers to toxic chemicals and generating microplastics themselves.
Fourth, recycled plastic carries the risk of toxicity through contamination with other plastic types in the collection bins, preventing it from becoming a food-grade material again.
Fifth and lastly, the recycling process is extremely expensive.
“The new plastic directly competes with recycled plastic, and it is much cheaper to produce and of higher quality,” the report said.
Ramsden called on corporations to support a global plastics treaty, which UN members agreed to create in February, and move toward refill and reuse strategies.
“It’s not really a new concept—this is how milkmen used to be, which is how Coca-Cola used to deliver their beverages to people. They’d drink their drink, give back the glass bottle, and clean and reuse it.” was done,” she said.
Some countries are leading the way, including India, which recently banned 19 single-use plastic items. Austria has set a reuse target of 25 percent by 2025 and at least 30 percent by 2030 for beverage packaging, while Portugal has also set a target of 30 percent by 2030. Chile is moving to phase out single-use cutlery and mandate refillable bottles.