Is Plastic Recycling Working?

One of the first posts I wrote this year discussed my awakening to the problems associated with single-use-plastics.  A quick stroll through the grocery store will highlight that just about everything is packaged in plastic.  In that January item, I pointed out many things I planned to do to reduce or eliminate the amount of plastic I was using.  I decided to eliminate items like plastic water bottles, plastic soda containers, plastic coffee containers, plastic bags for vegetables, our groceries and garbage bags, to name a few.  For that plastic I could not avoid, I planned to recycle it. But I realized, much of that plastic isn’t actually recycled. Much ends up in landfills, or an incinerator, or worse, the ocean. 

Recycling is something all of us can do and to a degree, help the planet and possibly ease our conscience about discarding so much stuff.  At least we’re recycling!   I recently came across a short, 5-minute film that opened my eyes a bit more regarding recycling.  It is entitled The Great Recycling Con.  You should watch it.  (Click the link.) It explains how companies have misled consumers into believing the plastic they put in their bins gets recycled, and therefore, doesn’t “harm” the planet.  Some companies have put the “recyclable” triangle on products they know will have little or no chance of being recycled.  For example, plastic with the numbers 3 through 7 are rarely recycled. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which is responsible for regulating against deceptive labeling, including recycling codes, has in place rules that are “less than clear” regarding what can and cannot be recycled. These confusing rules allow companies to misrepresent products that will not be recycled – unbeknownst to the consumer. The FTC should rewrite these rules to clarify what can and cannot be recycled. Additionally, the FTC should impose significant fines for non-compliance.

Bottom line, we should continue recycle plastic, but as we’re choosing to purchase a product with plastic, we should make that choice as though the product would not be recycled.  Because actually, that’s pretty much what is happening now.  Only about 8-9% of plastics are actually recycled.  We should select paper or metal cartons in lieu of plastic, or find products other than plastic.  Sodas are sold in cans as well as plastic. Same for milk, coffee and juices. Our vegetables don’t have to be wrapped in plastic. And we can choose to do business with those companies that are taking steps to reduce their plastic consumption. We can provide feedback to companies that are doing the right things as well as those companies that could do better. These are the only ways we can be sure that we are not contributing to the pollution our planet.  I hope you’ll watch the film.

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