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Thread: Do you think plastic recycling has always been a con?

  1. #1
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    Default Do you think plastic recycling has always been a con?

    This opinion piece (by the ceo of a company producing biodegradable packaging) suggests that the push for plastic recycling was made by plastics companies intent on changing perception, not reality.

    It unfortunately rings true. The current state of plastics recycling is certainly farcical. And all those years that we (in the U.S. at least) shipped our plastic waste to China, what was really happening with those plastics?

    (CNN)Our oceans are now awash in at least 150 million tons of plastic, an amount that researchers say will soon surpass the weight of all the fish in the sea.

    Plastic pollution fouls the land too, and the air we breathe.
    Scientists now say plastic micro-particles literally rain down on us, introducing toxins into our bodies. And if you think recycling is the answer, you are sadly mistaken. You can be excused for believing that you're doing your part for the environment by simply sorting your plastics from your trash.

    This is the lie the plastics industry has sold the public for nearly 50 years, according to a National Public Radio and PBS investigation released last week.

    In 1971, an organization called Keep America Beautiful Inc. created an ad campaign that captivated our collective consciences. The message: "People start pollution. People can stop it."

    That slogan was powerful. It became one of the anthems for the early environmental movement, a call to action that said it is us — all of us — who are responsible for pollution, and it's on all of us to solve it.

    Which is all well and good, except that the ad wasn't funded by environmentalists. Or activists. Or nonprofit foundations.
    That ad was funded by packaging and beverage companies.
    Its goal wasn't to stop pollution. The goal was to make consumers believe that their plastic waste could be recycled, so that packaging manufacturers could keep making more. That turned out to be a lie that has led to a planetary disaster.

    The world has been focused on mitigating around the margins, tiptoeing around the broader plastic crisis. Whether it be reusing plastic to pave roads, attempting to tax single-use plastics to reduce consumption, incinerating plastics to squeeze out a bit of energy (while also producing pollution) or skimming infinitesimally small patches of the ocean to clean out the plastic, the problem isn't finding creative ways to curb or marginally reuse plastic.
    The problem is plastic.

    Industry got us into this mess, and it can get us out. Many companies are working to replace plastic with biodegradable materials (mine is one of them). Governments have been moved to act, too.

    More than 140 countries have implemented some sort of plastic ban or plastic tax. But it's important to understand that governments cannot yet, for all practical purposes, ban all plastic. It's one thing to ban plastic bags when you can replace them with paper bags. Or to ban plastic straws when you can replace them with paper straws.
    In most cases, though, paper is not going to be a viable replacement material, either for manufacturers or consumers. And the entire consumer economy as we know it runs on single-use packaging, the vast majority of which is plastic.

    As new plastic alternatives step into the arena along with reusable bottles and containers, expect a very tough fight from the plastics industry. It spent millions of dollars driving recycling into the culture. Polyethylene evangelists went, one by one, to cities and counties to persuade local officials to adopt recycling programs. By 1990,10,000 communities had some kind of local recycling protocol, and the trend took off around the world.

    Recycling is ingrained in our culture. It became a virtue to signal. It became a way of life. But it is an empty symbol of personal environmental stewardship.

    The truth is, plastic recycling has been broken since it began.
    Globally, only 9% of the plastic we've ever produced has been recycled. The other 91% has ended up in landfills or incinerated or scattered throughout the environment, including in huge floating islands in the ocean partly composed or plastic byproducts from the manufacturing process.

    But we're not in this situation because you could have done a better job rinsing out your containers. When the plastic industry was going around helping set up recycling programs, it convinced local officials that they should accept every kind of plastic in their bins. Even the ones the plastic industry knew would never be recycled.

    Plastic recycling is not economically viable in the US and hasn't been for a long time. So, we shipped our plastic waste to China. At one point, China was buying 70% of the world's plastic.

    Then, three years ago, China shut down its foreign recycling operation. Since then, we've been burning around 14% of the plastic we produce, six times more than we recycle. As the search for new dumping grounds intensifies, plastics producers are training their sights on Africa.

    Last month the New York Times reported that an industry group representing the world's largest chemical and fossil fuel companies is lobbying for a US trade deal with Kenya to require the African nation to import more plastic. Such a shift would increase Kenya's role as both a global plastics landfill and a distributor of new plastic products on the African continent.

    We need to end this ruse. We have been fed the recycling myth to assuage our guilt over our consumption. And because people believe they can use plastic with impunity and without guilt, the problem continues to grow. Half of all plastics have been produced within the past 15 years, according to reporting in National Geographic.

    The first step to driving down our reliance on plastic is for every concerned consumer to understand that more than 90% of the plastic we have ever produced is now near-permanently polluting our world. And that number is going up, not down, as is our overall production.

    Innovation and investment in plastics alternatives will lead to totally biodegradable consumer goods packaging in grocery stores and markets soon. In the meantime, we all need to wake up to the fact that we cannot recycle our way out of our plastic problem.

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    Default Re: Do you think plastic recycling has always been a con?

    Yep. A very successful lie. Along with the massive social campaigns to enforce the belief system and socially shame those who don’t tie the line. Well intentioned people following the recycling rules of an industry corrupt at its core. The facts have been there all along. The Birkenstock wearing food coop crowd have known this since the 70s.

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    Default Re: Do you think plastic recycling has always been a con?

    At our household, the recycling bin is bigger than the garbage bin.

    I am concerned that our community's highly recycleable corrugated cardboard and paper waste is polluted with the plastics mixed in and therefore the entire load is getting landfilled.

    We do separate bottle glass here.

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    Default Re: Do you think plastic recycling has always been a con?

    The adult kids of some friends have essentially stopped using any plastics when they have choice. They wrap sandwiches and etc now in cotton or linen cloths that they've lightly infused with beeswax, and reuse endlessly.

    Herself and I have mused about trying to live something nearer to a 19th century lifestyle when I retire, apart from medicine. Won't be remotely like 100%, but the principle is not unlike the consumption pattern that needs to be renewed going forwards imo.
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    Default Re: Do you think plastic recycling has always been a con?

    Supermarket plastic bags have a recycling rate of about 90%, IIRC. Other stuff, IDK

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    Default Re: Do you think plastic recycling has always been a con?

    Quote Originally Posted by David W Pratt View Post
    Supermarket plastic bags have a recycling rate of about 90%, IIRC. Other stuff, IDK
    Where and when? Certainly not here and now.

    We used to recycle plastic grocery bags. They were barged to China for "recycling".

    All plastic bags going to landfill now here in Oregon.

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    Default Re: Do you think plastic recycling has always been a con?

    Absolutely a lie, a marketing concept from day one.
    Oil/Chemical companies are rarely acting in our best interests.

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    Default Re: Do you think plastic recycling has always been a con?

    I actually looked up recycling rates of grocery bags. Both industry and conservation groups seemed to agree on the 91% number. It is a near ideal situation; the bags can be conveniently returned to the place of origin. Beer bottles in bars used to have a similarly high rate of reuse because they were returned at the point of purchase and incurred little or no extra cost to be transported back to the brewery.

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    Default Re: Do you think plastic recycling has always been a con?

    We use grocery shopping bags exclusively for picking up poop after our dog on her morning walk. Sometimes she dumps twice on a single 1/2 mile walk, requiring two bags. I mix small patches of 5-min epoxy on PE squares cut from milk jugs. I use a lot of that epoxy mounting my bird carvings. Large Styurofoam molding used to package items like computers and TV sets are saved for use as pallets to keep corrugated fiberboard cartons off the garage floor so they won't soak up water that might drip off the cars. I recycle 5-gal buckets I see in other folks trash for keeping veggie oil fue for my truck. The veggie oil is recycled from a restaurant.

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    Default Re: Do you think plastic recycling has always been a con?

    I think the two big problems with recycling plastics are (1) there are limited things you can make from it (lawn chairs, etc.) and (2) I'm not sure it's cost effective. However, cost is not the only consideration and what's good for the environment is good for humanity.

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    Default Re: Do you think plastic recycling has always been a con?

    Quote Originally Posted by David W Pratt View Post
    I actually looked up recycling rates of grocery bags. Both industry and conservation groups seemed to agree on the 91% number. It is a near ideal situation; the bags can be conveniently returned to the place of origin...
    Yeah, and then what? Where is the facility that is recycling your plastic bags?

    We used to "recycle" plastic bags at the grocery stores. A couple years ago, they dropped the charade. Nobody in our region wants plastic bags of any sort.

    I suggest that if your store is still accepting plastic bags to "recycle" they are just playing along to make you feel good.

    The approach that Nicholas takes, reusing single use plastics and packaging items as much as possible, is the best thing we can manage, in my opinion.

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    Default Re: Do you think plastic recycling has always been a con?

    carbon tax

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    Default Re: Do you think plastic recycling has always been a con?

    One thing that just steams me to no end, here in the land of the original bottle deposit, is that the new system for handling can and bottle deposit returns, takes the onus off retailers. We now we have "bottle drops", where you can drop off your cans and bottles in bulk...in plastic ****** bags.

    I despair.

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    Default Re: Do you think plastic recycling has always been a con?

    No glass recycling here. I try and get my Lagunitas in cans.

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    Default Re: Do you think plastic recycling has always been a con?

    A con? No. Too strong... and misleading. Implies intent to defraud.

    Recycling plastics has always been a challenge. Different types - most of which can't be intermixed and can be hard to tell apart. Some additives, like dyes, can contaminate large quantity of material if they slip into the mix. Etc. Etc.

    So rather then a 'con'... I'd call plastics recycling a 'challenge'. Which we haven't always managed well.

    And right now - the proximate cause of plastics headed for landfills is that our primary market - China - has tightened standards for contamination of recycled materials. That is affecting plastics more than other materials because they were already a sorting challenge. Still lots of plastics being recycled nationally, but it's getting harder. Domestic markets are much smaller.

    So we need solutions. In general, and in response to the current change from China.

    But a con? Now you're starting to sound like bbbbbbbys <G>

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    Plastic recycling? So many different plastics. So labor intensive to separate things. Virtually impossible to visually identify many plastics.

    HDPE (milk bottles, etc) gets recycled. Easy to ID. Undyed. And the plastic itself is readily recyclable. My brother and a good friend (post-doc organic chemist) both worked for a firm that did the actual recycling, turning milk bottles back into HDPE beads that got sold back to DuPont et al, to be blowmolded back into milk bottles.

    Many (most?) other plastics... not so much.

    Paper recycling is a joke, too. Very little market for recycled paper. Very few mills to process it.

    So much paper goes in the recycling bin that scrap paper prices are in the toilet.

    Coated (glossy) paper is pretty much non-recyclable. The plastics and clays used to glaze it render it so.

    Low-grade papers - newsprint, egg cartons, etc. not worth recycling as the fiber lengths are too short.

    Corrugated cardboard is good. Manila card stock and the like good.

    But the net result is that virtually all paper that goes into the recycling bin winds up in the landfill or gets burned.
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    Default Re: Do you think plastic recycling has always been a con?

    Was "China" ever actually recycling our plastics, or were they just burning them for power generation.

    Did they stop importing because our plastics are "contaminated", or did they stop importing because they stopped burning plastics to generate power.

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    Default Re: Do you think plastic recycling has always been a con?

    Typical that the RWW bunch point their fingers at the Birkenstock folks when the real culprits are the plastics and petroleum corporations churning out the usual disinformation, just as they have on climate change.

    Where individual companies treat recycling as an obligation, e.g. Patagonia, there's been some success. The failure is in bulk recycling by cities through large corporate handlers such as Waste Management.

    https://www.patagonia.com/stories/re...ory-73479.html
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    Default Re: Do you think plastic recycling has always been a con?

    China, whatever it is they are doing, is making a profit.
    I think they figured out that the cost of health care/welfare vs air pollution is no longer profitable. They are playing the long game.

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    Default Re: Do you think plastic recycling has always been a con?

    Quote Originally Posted by L.W. Baxter View Post
    Was "China" ever actually recycling our plastics, or were they just burning them for power generation.

    Did they stop importing because our plastics are "contaminated", or did they stop importing because they stopped burning plastics to generate power.
    Is that what they were doing? Link?
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    Default Re: Do you think plastic recycling has always been a con?

    The irony of recycling is that styrofoam is actually easy to recycle in an infinite manner. And yet, I don't think we do much of that.

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    PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate, what plastic soda bottles are made from) also highly recycled, for much the same reasons that HDPE IS - generally undyed, easily identifiable, etc.)
    You would not enjoy Nietzsche, sir. He is fundamentally unsound. — P.G. Wodehouse (Carry On, Jeeves)

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    Well whether recycling is viable or mot, separating plastics to keep them from the landfill seems a good idea anyway.


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    Default Re: Do you think plastic recycling has always been a con?

    Quote Originally Posted by Breakaway View Post
    Well whether recycling is viable or mot, separating plastics to keep them from the landfill seems a good idea anyway.
    This is the entire point, even though you separate it out at the point of use the plastic (bags, etc) are still taken to the landfill. The system is a sham.

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    Default Re: Do you think plastic recycling has always been a con?

    Money drives everything, this issue as well.
    But according to experts it is now cheaper for major manufacturers to use new plastic. A report from S&P Global Platts, a commodity market specialist, revealed that recycled plastic now costs an extra $72 (£57) a tonne compared with newly made plastic.Oct 13, 2019
    PaulF

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    Default Re: Do you think plastic recycling has always been a con?

    Quote Originally Posted by David G View Post
    Is that what they were doing? Link?
    No link. Occam's Razor.

    Do you have a link proving that China ever recycled a significant part of our plastic waste into new plastic products? You repeated the narrative we've all heard, that "the proximate cause of plastics headed for landfills is that our primary market - China - has tightened standards for contamination of recycled materials." Do you have a source other than Yahoo news? First hand experience? Did you tour a mid-nineties era, mainland China, power-generation plant?

    I recall the flatbed trucks stacked with bales of plastic bags bound for the port of Portland and thence to Asia. They were well sorted, compressed, and tidy. How many btus per ton of plastic baggies? If it was cheaper by the btu than refined petroleum or coal, why wouldn't the Chinese have simply burned it by the shipload? Just pick it off with a forklift and drive it into the incinerator.

    Is this what Americans had in mind when compiling our waste to send overseas? dse, to borrow a phrase.

    Not saying China would have stopped for environmental reasons, either. Could be they stopped because the combination of petroleum/coal prices and their own infrastructure made burning plastics less attractive.

    It all makes a lot of sense. More sense than the idea that the highly unprofitable recycling of plastics was somehow worth doing after shipping halfway around the world.

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    Default Re: Do you think plastic recycling has always been a con?

    Lee - that sounds a lot like, "I can't say for sure, but a lot of people have said..."
    David G
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    Quote Originally Posted by Canoeyawl View Post
    This is the entire point, even though you separate it out at the point of use the plastic (bags, etc) are still taken to the landfill. The system is a sham.


    What landfill? Where?

    I know locally, the plastics are not landfilled. It goes elsewhere.

    If the landfilling of plastics is centralized, so that most landfills can be comprised of more readily biodegradable material, that is better than all landfills having a high percentage of plastics, no?

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    Default Re: Do you think plastic recycling has always been a con?

    Conceptually, recycling plastic should be cheaper. You don't have to find and extract the oil or natural gas. Then, you don't have to refine it. If the feedstock is really cheap, then recycling won't work

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    Default Re: Do you think plastic recycling has always been a con?

    DavidG, how is it any less likely than the narrative you parroted?

    Tell us how you know what China did with our plastics, and why they don't want them anymore.

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    Default Re: Do you think plastic recycling has always been a con?

    It is likely that "recycled" plastic shipped to China ends up in the ocean. I also disagree that 9 out of 10 single use plastic bags are "recycled" into other products. Most of those end up in the ocean or a landfill.

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    Default Re: Do you think plastic recycling has always been a con?

    Dated, but the "landfill" numbers are most assuredly up from this
    * note these numbers are in Thousands of tons...

    95ED4F9A-FD78-4518-B266-7D1D912C8467.jpg

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    Default Re: Do you think plastic recycling has always been a con?

    Plastic recycling sucks. Much better to avoid using plastic in the first place.

    Setting up to cleanly burn it for power is probably a better way to go than a failing recycling program. At least then it wouldn't stick around for tens of thousands of years.

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    Default Re: Do you think plastic recycling has always been a con?

    People are trained to think that "recycling" means putting stuff in a collection bin. It really means physically incorporating the item into a new product, avoiding the waste stream entirely or almost so.

    I read recently that the landfill is the preferable end point for single use plastic if "recycling" really means it ends up in the ocean. The author actually argued that we should minimize consumer purchases of single use plastic and any that we do purchase should be thrown in the trash rather than the recycle bin.

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    Default Re: Do you think plastic recycling has always been a con?

    Quote Originally Posted by Canoeyawl View Post
    Dated, but the "landfill" numbers are most assuredly up from this
    * note these numbers are in Thousands of tons...

    95ED4F9A-FD78-4518-B266-7D1D912C8467.jpg
    Tons into the landfill are up. As is tons generated. Every category is up.

    But look at it this way: Percentage of that material generated which ends in the landfill.

    In that view, the % went down until 1980, then stayed fairly steady thru '17. As did the % burned as fuel.

    But the % ending in the landfill dwarfed the % recycled. We can look at that two ways. First - it's terrible, and we should try and do more. Second - we've kept a certain % out of the landfills, and that's good... even if a limited good.

    Quote Originally Posted by J.Madison View Post
    Plastic recycling sucks. Much better to avoid using plastic in the first place.

    Setting up to cleanly burn it for power is probably a better way to go than a failing recycling program. At least then it wouldn't stick around for tens of thousands of years.
    Always the first/best option. And we need to do better. When I was with OSPIRG back in the early 70's, we were promoting that very idea.
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