Recycling Alone Won’t Eliminate Plastic Waste

Recycling Alone Won't Eliminate Plastic Waste

The vast majority of the plastic manufactured throughout the world never gets recycled. Most ends up in landfills or incinerators. What is not buried or burned gets dumped in the middle of nowhere or ends up in the water. So what’s the solution? Some believe it is recycling. But recycling alone will not eliminate plastic waste.

Plastic is a fantastic material with so many uses that it is almost hard to fathom. Just look around your home or office. Chances are you cannot count the number of things you’ll find that either contain plastic or are made entirely from it. The truth is that modern society is permeated by plastic. It is saturated with plastic, if you will.

There are those who believe the world is facing a genuine plastic crisis. There are others who don’t believe plastic waste is a big problem. Unfortunately, the debate has become politicized – just like almost everything else that makes the news. Equally unfortunate is that politics are driving decisions.

1. Recyclers Are Not the Problem

A recent article published on the GreenBiz website looks at how the corporate world is addressing the plastic crisis. There are also mentions of government efforts to reduce plastic waste. And of course, the piece references data that seems to suggest the world is doomed to utter collapse if plastic waste isn’t dealt with.

All sensationalism aside, the piece also mentions efforts by large corporations to put pressure on the recycling sector. The piece outright states that “consumer products giants such as Coca-Cola, Nestle and Colgate-Palmolive are exerting pressure on recyclers to up their game.”

The implication of that statement is that recyclers are the problem. The sentiment is one of the recycling industry not doing a good enough job at keeping plastic out of the waste stream. Nothing could be further from the truth. But that is not the half of it. Those same corporations have a responsibility as well. They need to stop producing so much plastic.

2. It’s a Money Thing

The reality of the matter is that the entire plastic waste issue is a money thing. Why don’t recyclers do more to capture post-consumer plastics? Because they cannot make a profit doing so. Recycling is a business. And if a company cannot make money, it’s not going to try. Recyclers are not going to willingly lose money in order to solve the post-consumer plastic problem.

Likewise, giant corporations rely on consumer plastics for everything from packaging to manufacturing. They do so because it makes financial sense. It is cheaper to produce plastic food packaging than to go with non-plastic materials. It is cheaper to make a cell phone case from plastic compared to metal or some other material.

Recyclers do a fine job where they can do so profitably. Tennessee-based Seraphim Plastics is an excellent example. They are one of many companies throughout the U.S. that recycle scrap plastic obtained from manufacturers, industrial producers, and so on. The scrap plastic they buy is turned into regrind and then sold back to manufacturers. Their business is profitable, efficient, and effective.

3. Pointing Fingers Doesn’t Help

If the world truly is facing a plastic waste crisis, pointing fingers is not going to help. Claiming that recyclers are not working hard enough is not only disingenuous, but it also purposely deflects from the fact that we voluntarily produce tons of plastic because it is cheap and convenient.

Recycling alone will not solve the plastic problem. If there is truly a problem that we genuinely hope to solve, we also have to stop making so much plastic. Otherwise, no amount of recycling will ever make a dent in the waste stream.

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