If you plot the trend of plastics recycling over time, the future looks brighter because more and more plastics today are being recycled compared to decades and centuries past. However, this trend unlike that of glass and paper is not sharp rising as a small percentage of all plastics is recycled today. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, only 6.8% of all plastics were recycled in 2007, a percentage that ill compares to the over 50% of paper that was recycled.
The major argument explaining the low rate of plastic recycling is the inability of community recycling programs to recycle all types of plastics. For instance, plastic bags are not accepted in these recycling programs.
Some recycling programs only accept plastic bottles that are manufactured from HDPE or PET thus leaving other plastic items to be left in the garbage. This is why some plastics record higher rates of recycling compared to others.
Irrespective of whatever gets accepted and what ends up in garbage pits and landfills, we must be aware that plastic which is not recycled ultimately becomes waste and pollutes our environment.
The American Plastics Council records that in 1960, plastic waste accounted for less than 1% of the total municipal waste. By the year 2007, over 31 million tons of plastic became municipal waste and this represented close to 12% of the waste in landfills. The bulk of the plastic in these landfills is un-recycled plastic bags and bottles.
Each year about 38 billion water bottles end up in landfills along with billions of plastic bags. Scientific research has established that a plastic bag or bottle buried in a landfill takes about a thousand years to decompose. This means a thousand years of continuous pollution from toxic gases and solid waste.
All un-recycled plastics end up as litter and this causes increased costs in cleanups and proper disposal measures. These plastics are an eyesore and when swallowed by animals, they are a health hazard as they can cause suffocation. When discarded, plastic bags find their way into water bodies and this threatens the marine ecosystem evidenced by the deaths of hundreds of thousands of sea turtles and whales each year.
Use of Natural Resources
Plastic items dumped and buried in landfills can obviously not be reused or remade into something else. These plastic items that cost an enormous amount in raw materials and labor to produce, end up as a total waste. In order to support another round of production therefore, companies are forced to get new raw materials, engage their manufacturing processes again and also exploit other natural resources such as water and energy to create a new batch of plastics. If the discarded plastic items had been recycled, the same plastic could have been recycled to create other plastic items, a process that environmental scientists argue use lesser natural resources and costs to realize.
Going forward, community recycle projects as well as public private partnerships need to come in and forge alliances to help our planet get rid of plastics through the recycling pathway. We were excited to learn that our recent nyc mover offered moving bins as an alternative to the boxes.