Plastic Recycling: It's not Enough

By Rachel Grubbe

Recycling is great, but it is not an end-all solution to fighting plastic waste. After you toss your plastic in the recycling bin, it has a complicated journey ahead of it. Plastic recycling is not a perfect system, not all plastic is equal. There are various qualities and grades of plastic that must be sorted in order for recycling to take place. Through errors in plastic sorting systems, thousands of pounds of plastic end up in the landfill every year.

Once all that plastic is sorted, it is broken down into tiny pieces and melted down. When plastic is melted its quality is greatly reduced, it loses clarity and flexibility. So, basically what this means is, recycled plastic is always down-cycled. Down-cycling does not eliminate the need to source new material. Most recycled plastic quality is too poor to create new products, so it is mixed with new plastic in the production process to created “recycled material.”

So, how does plastic stack up to other recyclable materials? It’s not great.

Glass and aluminum can be recycled over and over again, without losing quality. Plastic can only be recycled once or twice before it is completely useless. Also, plastic recycling is alarmingly low. Only 10 percent of plastic material generated in the US is recycled. Glass is 80 percent recycled.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Consumer habits regarding once-use plastics are killing our planet. Plastic bottles, coffee cups, straws, grocery bags. All bad. Cautious consumption can greatly reduce the demand for plastic production.

Plastic consumption is not just a problem that should be on our radar for the future. It is a problem now. The strain plastic puts on the environment and our health is overwhelming. For example:

  • Plastic releases harmful chemicals that have been found to alter hormones

  • Wildlife ingest and get caught in plastic, especially marine life.

  • Buried plastic can leach chemicals into the groundwater

  • Producing a plastic bottle generates 100 times the toxin emissions than producing a glass bottle

Even though plastic recycling has many faults it is still very important to recycle. Plastic water bottles won’t ever be a water bottle again, but they may become a park bench, or carpet, or even clothes! At KBB we like to refer to the Three Rs. Reduce, reuse, and recycle. Reducing and reusing are far more beneficial to the planet than recycling. But, don’t stop recycling! Remember to reduce your consumption habits and reuse that plastic you already have.