You may not realize that most of the plastic being dropped into recycling bins isn’t actually being recycled. The sad truth is that plastic production has surged in recent years, leading to worldwide increases of more than 348 million tons of plastic being produced annually. Nearly half of that ends up in waste and has led to an even greater plastic pollution problem globally.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) a United States government organization at the forefront of protecting the environment, less than 9% of plastic gets recycled in the U.S. alone. The world is in the midst of a plastic pollution crisis despite the best efforts of increasing public awareness of the issue. Unfortunately, the idea of plastic recycling is largely a myth, and the truth about plastic recycling is that plastic never really disappears.
Read on to find out about the reality of plastic recycling and what can be done to fight back.
What Is The Process Of Plastic Recycling?
Plastic recycling is typically broken up into a few distinct steps.
1. Collection – this step is completely reliant upon businesses, restaurants, and the public to dispose of their plastic recycling waste in the correct place.
2. Sorting – machines are used to sort plastics into different areas based upon what final product is being produced.
3. Washing – plastics need to be washed before they are further processed for recycling. The goal of this step is to remove impurities and everything that is not made from plastic.
4. Resizing – this is the process of shredding or granulating plastic waste into small particles. What this does is, increase the surface area of the plastic, which makes it easier to process, reshape, and transport if needed.
5. Separation – this step is separation and identification of plastics is when the resized plastics are tested to determine their quality and class.
6. Compounding – this is when the small particles are crushed and melted together into plastic pellets, which can then be used to produce different plastic products.
According to National Public Radio (NPR), recycled plastics are rarely turned into new plastics goods at all, in fact, most recycled plastic ends up buried in landfills or in the ocean. Not only that but approximately 108 million metric tons of CO2 are attributed per year to plastic production, which is mainly from the extraction and refining process. This means that recycling plastics is having an even more negative impact on the environment.
Why Is Plastic Recycling Ineffective?
Plastic pollution is directly affected by the price of oil. You see, as oil prices fluctuate, so does the price of plastic. When those market prices are depressed, virgin plastic becomes more affordable than recycled plastic. Additionally, many plastic products degrade each time they’re processed, making them less valuable.
So where do these recycled plastics end up? The oceans. Most plastics are made from petroleum, which makes it built to last for thousands of years. Once plastic ends up in the ocean, sunlight and waves break it down into small microparticles, which never truly biodegrade. These microplastics attract other pollutants like flame retardants and other industrial chemicals. These are around one million times more toxic than the water around them.
What can you do to combat this plastic pollution problem? The best way to help with the plastic recycling crisis is to reduce the amount of plastic that you use on a daily basis and begin transitioning to a zero-waste lifestyle! Try cutting out the top five single-use plastics from your everyday life: water bottles, plastic bags, to-go containers, takeaway cups, and straws.
Other helpful articles to cutting down on plastic use and transitioning to a zero-waste lifestyle:
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