While environmentalists and eco-minded people everywhere have taken to recycling, the amount of plastics and other recyclable products ending up in landfills continues to be a problem. Unfortunately, it looks like this problem won’t be going anywhere any time soon.
Reliance On Plastics
Plastics, like it or not, have become a significant fixture in the daily lives of billions. Today the world makes and consumes about 600 billion pounds of plastic yearly, and the market is still growing about 5% a year. Plastic pieces are in nearly every part of our daily life, from items you think about (plastic water bottles, disposable bags, and more) to items you don’t (in computers, microbeads in cosmetics, etc.).
Even in situations where we don’t need to use plastics, we often do. Disposables are frequently chosen over easily available reusable alternatives. For example, the average reusable bag has a lifespan equal to that of more than 700 disposable plastic bags. However, many households continue to use disposable bags over reusable alternatives due to affordability, ease of access, and sheer force of habit.
An Uphill Climb
Despite knowing just how much plastic we use on a regular basis, not much of it gets recycled regularly. Only 30% of high-density polyethylene containers such as milk jugs actually get recycled in the United States today, with some estimates for recycling rates of plastics overall dropping as low as 9%. While some is better than none, it’s clear that more of these easily-spotted materials need to be actually recycled in order to make more of an impact.
It’s easy to identify many types of plastic, but some are more well-hidden and, as a result, often go directly into landfills rather than being recycled at all. Plastics overall are becoming more difficult to recycle for what many people may find to be a shocking reason. Previously, many types of recycled plastics were purchased by nations like China to be used in manufacturing new plastic products. However, China is now only accepting certain types of plastics, specifically those designated as numbers 1 or 2. Previously, all plastics designated numbers 1 through 7 were accepted. If this pattern continues, it’s likely that recycling plastics is going to become even more difficult in the future.
Progress And Next Steps
Even if plastics recycling is looking grim, that doesn’t mean recycling is altogether going to become a thing of the past. Paper recycling, in particular, has seen significant success. Today, more than a third of new paper is made with recycled fiber. Recycled papers are also used in ways that not everyone expects, making them a versatile option for recycled material.
However, if significant change is to happen in reducing the environmental impacts of consumption, more people will need to start recycling their plastic products, and properly. In order to make sure your plastic recyclables don’t end up directly in a landfill, check what type of plastics they are and recycle them correctly. If you’re unsure how to recycle a certain type of plastic, contact your local waste company for more information on proper disposal.