Plastics are getting a bad rap these days. Every time I glance at the news headlines, scroll through my Facebook feed or visit a local restaurant I am told how bad plastic is for the environment. There are millions and millions of pounds of it polluting the ocean. Marine life is being harmed by straws. Once pristine beaches are now covered in waste. There is no question in my mind, we do have a plastic problem, but I think we need to take a closer look at this problem, besides just saying “plastic is bad”.
According to the Royal Statistical Society, approximately 90% of plastic waste has never been recycled. Step back and think about that for a moment. Around 300 million tons of plastic are produced each year, so that’s 270 million tons of plastic that never gets recycled. The big red flag here is that we have a major recycling problem, not necessarily a material problem.
Earlier this year, Jeff Spross published an article titled “America has a recycling problem. Here’s how to solve it.” In it, Spross examines the American recycling system, and how there was a fundamental shift in it last year:
Over the last 30 years, American and other countries have shipped more than 10 million metric tons of plastic to China. That came with plenty of social, economic, and environmental costs for China itself. So, on the last day of 2017, the Chinese government issued new rules so restrictive that shipments of waste into China for recycling effectively came to a halt, meaning the U.S. had to deal with all its unwanted paper, plastic, and glass on its own.
Americans may be inclined to recycle their plastic bottles and other items, but many American reclamation facilities are not suited to handle this huge influx of material. Sorting equipment is outdated, and single stream recycling creates challenges for reclaimers that adds cost to the process. Spross says: “Like all businesses, recycling costs time, energy, labor, and resources. Profits depend on how expensive it is to recycle versus how expensive it is to just make new commodities with new materials.”
We already know that recycling plastic can significantly reduce our impact on the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that recycling one ton of plastic can conserve about 3.8 barrels of crude oil. If even half of the plastic produced each year got recycled, we could save an estimated 570 million barrels of crude oil per year. As a society, we need to figure out a way to make recycling plastic an appealing idea for consumers, as well as a financially sound investment for reclaimers and processors.
The Alliance to End Plastic Waste, an organization launched this year, has gained support from over 25 companies worldwide, with a commitment of raising $1.5 billion over the next five years to help develop stronger infrastructure for recycling plastic, especially in developing countries, spur innovation by advancing technologies to minimize waste and make plastic recovery more feasible, promote education and engagement of governments, businesses and communities, and clean up of existing plastic waste.
At Ex-Tech, we are committed to doing our part to ease the impact of plastics on our environment. We strive to use recycled materials wherever possible—including up to 100% recycled plastic in our RPVC and RPET blends. We are also committed to supporting organizations like the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, because we believe there is strength in numbers, and together we can help solve this problem.