From the Recycling Bin to the Landfill: The Major Flaw in Plastic Recycling – Cara Michelle Miller 4/2/24


People may be putting plastic into recycling bins, but most of it generally ends up in landfills or incinerated.

Yet the demand for more plastic production continues—at a growing cost to human and environmental health—because of the belief that recycling offsets the associated waste and risks. A new report by the Center for Climate Integrity (CCI) alleges that the plastics industry knowingly caused the current plastic waste crisis.

The nonprofit’s report claims that as the plastics industry faced mounting concerns over plastics being incinerated and piling up in landfills, they promoted recycling as a viable solution while dismissing it internally as impractical.

They knew since the 1970s that plastic recycling was not going to be scalable and effective in tackling the plastic waste crisis,” Melissa Valliant, communications director of Beyond Plastics, a nonprofit aiming to reduce single-use plastic use and production, explained to The Epoch Times.

The report asserts that the efforts to sell the false promise of plastic recycling were to avoid restrictive regulations and potential product bans.

Plastic Recycling Poses Many Challenges

According to the report, one problem with plastic recycling is that it is not technically or economically feasible at scale. Unlike glass and metal, plastic cannot be repeatedly recycled without quickly degrading in quality. Most recyclable plastics can typically only be recycled once. As a result, most recycled plastic eventually ends up in landfills, even if it goes through an additional use cycle as another product.

Between the 1970s and 2015, 91 percent of plastic was either landfilled, burned, or leaked into the environment, according to a global analysis published in Science Advances. Another recent report published by Beyond Plastics estimated that less than 6 percent of plastic in the United States is successfully recycled.

These figures are based on all plastic waste generated, which includes plastics not made to be recycled and those thrown away. As for the plastic that makes it to a recycling center, there isn’t an official nationwide estimate of what percent of those plastics get recycled in the end.

However, certain types of plastic containers—soda and water bottles (PET 1) and milk jugs (HDPE 2), in particular—are more likely to be recycled.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an international organization focused on improving public policies, says only 9 percent of plastic collected for recycling worldwide in 2019 was actually recycled; 50 percent went into landfills, and 22 percent was mismanaged.

Another challenge is that there are too many different types of plastics. Recyclable plastics cannot be recycled with plastics made of different chemical compositions, and sorting the waste is infeasible….

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