Where does your plastic go after you toss it in the recycling?
The recycling is far from a perfect solution to single use plastics. More than 300 millions tons of plastic waste is produced every year and less than 10% of that is actually recycled. Prices in the plastic market varies and it is often cheaper to use new plastic rather than recycled. It will then be sold to other countries at a loss. Plastics often degrade each time they are recycled unlike glass and metal, making them even less valuable than materials that can be endlessly recycled.
China was a big buyer of our plastics but in 2018 they stopped buying plastics from other countries. China is now going to beat the U.S. in sustainability. In some cases such as India where our waste is sold, pickers go through the waste to find value materials item such as thick plastic and metal.
Why they are bad?
1 ton of plastic is dumped into the ocean every minute which equates to 8 million tons annually. Plastics are made to last. But how long exactly? Some can last thousands of years. Once they do break down they turn into small microplastics that never truly degrade. Once in the ocean they cause harm to the marine life consuming them, and to the people consuming then.
So what can I do if even recycling is a broken system?
While I agree that a zero-waste lifestyle is the best practice but for many individuals this is not a realistic lifestyle that they can achieve. It can feel like an impossible to go from a few trash bags a week to none at all. I think a good starter would be to simply just reduce the amount of single use plastics in your home. Track the amount of plastic waste you produce, and how you can reduce it further with Calculate Your Plastic Footprint. According to a New York Times article, Tired of Plastic? These Businesses Have Ideas for You, they state that “about 72 percent of Americans say they actively try to limit their plastic use.” It still equates to about 4 ounces of plastic per person per day in waste.
What are companies doing?
Some companies have taken an interest in developing plastic alternatives. Consumers are more willing to support companies who appear to be environmentally conscientious. At this year’s Superbowl Footprint, provided a cardboard alternative to the single use plastics served. Footprint is an innovative company in packaging that provides alternatives to disposable plastic food containers. These are able to completely biodegrade, compostable, and are even microwavable. Another company Notpla, is developing a seaweed extract to combat plastic alternatives. They created a small water pouch similar to a detergent pod called Ooho. These pouches are completely edible and can be used as an alternative disposable bottles or cups. They were used at last year’s London Marathon filled with energy drinks to help aid participants. All of the blame should not be put on placed on the consumer to limit their single plastic but more pressure should be placed on companies to limit waste and develop alternatives. There is an obvious growing market for alternatives to single use items.