The Biggest Lies We Believe About Recycling Plastics

The Biggest Lies We Believe About Recycling Plastics

The indiscriminate dumping of plastic threatens the environment and ecosystem. More plastic is being produced and recycling promises to reduce the amount of plastic in our environment- a Hail Mary some may say. Plastic recycling allows for the reprocessing of plastic waste into new and useful products. Ongoing sensitization encourages consumers to dispose of plastic waste appropriately, all in an effort to save our planet. While the valuable efforts to recycle must be highlighted, some of what we have been made to believe about recycling plastics are lies. These may be real eye openers.

1. Recycling Plastic is Beneficial to the Environment

Have you ever considered that recycling in itself also leads to pollution? To transport used plastics, trucks and ships burn fuel, releasing gases into the air. A high percentage of plastics taken to the recycling bins are contaminated or cannot be recycled. As such, they are rerouted to the landfill. Fuel and chemicals are used at recycling plants, releasing pollutants into the air and water. Some may say, the decision to recycle or not is truly a matter of choosing the lesser of the two evils.

2. Plastic is Recycled Indefinitely

Plastics are made from polymer chains, which are long chains of atoms that become shorter every time the plastic is recycled, thus changing its chemical composition and decreasing its quality. Thus, many plastics can only be recycled once or twice before the quality decreases to the extent that it can no longer be recycled. Recycled plastics are not used to manufacture the same product. For instance, soda bottles often can’t be recycled into another bottle, but instead, used to make sewer drain pipes.

3. All Plastics are Recyclable

Plastic bearing the recycling symbol doesn’t mean the item can be recycled. There are 7 categories of plastics according to Resin Identification Codes. This is based on the chemical makeup of the plastic. The higher the resin code, the lower the likelihood that the type of plastic can be easily recycled. Types 1 and 2 are often recycled. Type 3 plastics which include thin plastic bags are usually not recycled as they clog recycle machines. They are also inexpensive yet costly to recycle and therefore, not financially worthwhile for companies. Type 6 is styrofoam, and has a very low recycling rate.

4. Different Types of Plastics Can Be Mixed When Being Recycled

While you may be of the impression that recycling plants are able to recycle different types of plastics together, this is not the case. Many plastics cannot be mixed and must be separated based on their types or resin, as they have different melting temperatures and react differently when being processed into new products. Sorting is necessary and can be done manually or using technology capable of recognizing different types of plastics. Incompatible plastics, if mixed, result in weak material and contamination of batches of plastic which cannot be recycled.

5. The Plastic Industry is in Support of Recycling

The producers of plastic are aware that the majority of all plastics produced will not or cannot be recycled. Yet they continue to “support” recycling. Why? Plastic recycling was promoted by plastic companies from the inception, as a way to preempt plastic bans and sell more plastic. At that time, a growing backlash was threatening the future of the industry. More plastic is being produced and recyclable signs are placed on plastics that are rarely recycled. Consumers purchase in large volumes believing that it will later be recycled. When this is not done, the recycling industry becomes the scapegoat.

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