Recycling is a mainstream practice in the U.S. While we may think of it as a positive solution to our plastic problem, the impact of recycling stretches far beyond the bin. Plastic is a major source of energy waste on the environment, and recycling contributes to that impact in a way that shouldn’t be underestimated.
Plastic is made from petroleum, so every new piece of plastic cuts into petroleum reserves. About 8-10% of the world’s total oil supply goes into making plastic. And of that, it is estimated that 12 million barrels of oil are used for making plastic bags in the U.S. alone.
The total weight of plastic waste per year equals 30 million tons with only 8% being recycled. In many cases, once recycling is trucked to the collection centers it is then shipped back overseas to be reprocessed. While it’s true that recycling does turn used plastic into new, the energy used in that process only adds to our carbon footprint.
The Recycling Challenge:
- Plastic items have to be recycled with like plastic numbers. A tray labeled No. 1 (polymer: PET) can’t be recycled in the same group as a bottle labeled No. 1 because they melt at different temperatures. This increases the price to collect and sort the plastic. For this reason, many cities limit the amount of plastics they take in.
- Prices for recycled materials have plummeted due to lower oil prices. Due to the cost/benefit analysis on the production of plastic, it is often less expensive to make new plastics vs recycle. This has lead many facilities to dump plastic in landfills vs properly recycling.
- In New York City, the net cost of recycling a ton of trash is now $300 more than it would cost to bury the trash instead. That adds up to millions of extra dollars per year which could be used for other initiatives including reductions in greenhouse emissions.
Every single piece of plastic ever created is still somewhere on our planet. Becoming a mindful consumer and buying less plastic is a great first step. Purchasing reusable items such as glass water bottles, stainless steel containers, and reusable cotton shopping bags keep single-use plastics out of landfills and the recycling center.
Stop wasting energy the plastic way. To get involved in going plastic free this July, head over to this site and sign the pledge. To learn more check out our resources page full of book, films, and articles.