Recycling has revolutionized the way in which many of us interact with the products and packaging we bring into our homes every day through providing a way for us to responsibly dispose of materials and divert them from landfills. With recycling programs cropping up across the US in communities large and small, the appeal and accessibility of recycling is growing rapidly. However, it’s important to acknowledge the greenwashing taking place both in the recycling industry and within corporations seeking to profit off of consumers’ vigor for recyclable materials. Because as much as recyclable materials are critical to bolstering the health of our planet and reducing our consumption as a society, there’s one material that, while advertised as recyclable, is in fact not being responsibly recycled: plastics.
The Problem with Plastics Recycling
No matter how diligent you properly clean, dry, and recycle your plastic milk jugs, food containers, and shampoo bottles, most of it doesn’t end up being converted to post-recycled material after all. In reality, that statistic hovers only around a staggeringly low 5-6%, according to Greenpeace. And with an estimated plastic waste consumption of 295 lbs per person in 2019, this means that only approximately 2.5 million metric tons of the 44 million metric tons of plastic was actually recycled in the 2019 calendar year. Yikes. The problem yet to be addressed is not simply the lack of responsible recycling taking place (those who recycle the wrong types of plastics at the curbside, do not clean food and other debris from plastics before recycling, or who attempt to recycle small pieces of plastic that can damage machines at the recycling plant) but by the fact that plastics simply aren’t being recycled.
Why Is It So Difficult to Recycle Plastic?
Historically, when volumes of plastics are too high to be handled, they are tossed into landfills, burned, or end up polluting our waterways and oceans. With society’s passion for the convenience of plastics, it’s clear that plastics are not going to disappear from our market overnight. However, in spite of our renewed excitement for recycling in recent years, neither are plastics being broken down and recreated into post-consumer recycled materials. So how is this happening? It all comes down to one driving force: money. Producing new plastic is cheap, and often far more inexpensive than recycling plastics and converting it to post-consumer material to be used again. Few companies are willing or able to afford the cost of purchasing post-consumer recycled plastics, and instead opt for new plastics when choosing packaging or determining what materials their products will be made of. Recycling only works if there is a strong market for post-consumer recycled products. Without this, there’s no demand, and the value for recycling dries up. So despite our best efforts, even with perfect recycling practices, the truth is that there simply isn’t enough interest in post-consumer recycled materials to account for the massive amount of new plastics created every day.
What Can You Do?
The good news is that as a consumer you get the privilege of voting with your dollars. There are a few ways you can encourage wider recycling practices when it comes to plastics:
If your budget allows, purchase items made or packaged with post-consumer recycled materials. This sets a stronger value on recycled plastics and helps encourage larger corporations to prioritize recycling when determining their supply chains and packaging practices.
Make sure you’re recycling properly. This means identifying which plastics your recycling provider can take and making sure all plastics you recycle are clean and dry.
Avoid plastic when you can. With so many sustainable alternatives out there, you’ll be surprised at all the innovative ways you can say goodbye to plastics altogether! Zero waste and refill shops provide great spaces to shop for household and personal care products that deprioritize plastics, and many grocery stores now offer refill stations to stock up on staples like grains, dried beans, and baking essentials without buying new single-use plastics.
Shop Sustainably With Us!
At Summit Sustainable Goods, all our zero waste household care and personal care products are truly environmentally friendly and contain clean, safe ingredients. No single use plastics here! We work with our suppliers to make sure all the products we sell are genuinely safe for the environment and your body - because we believe that you and mother nature both deserve the best. It’s just another way we live into our values of being as environmentally and ethically conscious as possible.
Where can you find our curated selection of high quality and sustainable products? You know we’ve got you covered! Check out our website at www.summitsustainablegoods.eco or visit us at a local pop-up around town. (Info available through our website or socials.) Want to follow our journey and learn about future zero waste events and happenings? Adventure with us by signing up for our email list or follow us on Instagram or Facebook to keep up-to-date on all things Summit.