How much of our plastic is actually getting recycled?
A lot of people are recycling their plastic but once you’ve put it in the recycle bin, where does it go?
Monday 23rd March 2020
Based on a study in 2017, only 8.4% of all waste was recycled. A lot of countries just don’t have the infrastructure to deal with recycling different types of plastic. Underneath each plastic container is a number which relates to the type of plastic it’s made of. For example, when you see a number 1 in a triangle, it means that plastic is made of a material called PET (polyethene terephthalate). When you see a “2” underneath, it means the material is HDPE (high-density polyethene).
At the materials recovery facilities, plastics get sorted based on their numbers which go up to 7. However, only the low numbers (1, 2) are generally recyclable meaning a lot of the plastic just isn’t getting recycled.
These plastics with the numbers (1, 2) underneath them get broken up and melted into pellets that are then sold to manufacturers for reuse. They can be made into carpet, clothing or other plastic packaging.
Originally a lot of the plastic, those numbered above 2 (considered mixed plastic) were sent to China for processing. However, China changed it’s policy and discontinued it’s import of mixed plastic. The USA, one of the main exporters of mixed plastic to China had not adapted to this change in Chinese policy and therefore their mixed plastic is dumped into the landfill or into the ocean.
So the question becomes, is recycling worth it? For plastics numbered 1 and 2, yes! Even those plastics numbered 5 are worth recycling as there is a growing market for plastics that include mini-yogurt containers.
Unfortunately, plastics numbered 3,4,6 and 7 are not worth recycling and do more harm than good.
This is why it is so important to find alternatives to recycling. When consuming, we must adapt and look for non-plastic, biodegradable and sustainable options.
This will force companies to reduce their production of plastic and will massively reduce plastic waste in our environment, allowing ecosystems to thrive again and once again create a natural balance in the environment.