Here's why your recycled plastic may be destined for a landfill

You are on the right track to throw your plastic container in the recycling bin. It might have a label that says the container is recyclable, so it must be in the plastic recycling bin. But wait! Odds are high that it might end up in a landfill with the remaining trash.

According to the new study, 367 recycling plants across the United States were observed, and only a small percentage of processed cups, plates, trays and bags were found. Less than 15 per cent accepted plastic clamshells, whereas none approved getting coffee pods.

Notably, plastic recycling facilities only accept soda and water bottles and other thicker plastic for packaging. A majority of the remaining items end up in the trash. It was observed that the different plastic types could be recycled but that there's presently no market for it in the USA.

Most types of plastic aren't recyclable in the US, and it is illegal to cite it as recyclable. Plastic is usually classified into seven categories, namely -

Plastic #1 - Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)

They are usually used to make containers and bottles for condiments such as sauces, ketchup and jam.

Plastic #2 - High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

They are used to manufacture juice, water, milk, shampoo bottles and gel containers.

Plastic #3 - Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

This is often used as a wrap for bedding, deli foods, medication and plastic toys.

Plastic #4 - Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)

Often found in bags for newspapers, bread, fresh produce and milk cartons.

Plastic #5 - Polypropylene (PP)

Used for takeout meals and yoghurt, among others.

Plastic #6 - Polystyrene (PS)

Also known as Styrofoam, this is usually used to make plates, cups, bowls, trays, takeout containers, etc.

Plastic #7 - Other (O)

All other types of plastic.

Reports argue that the main issue is the plastic numbered from 3 - 7, many of which are used as a mixture with other material types, like a coffee cup made of paper with plastic lining. They're costly and difficult to separate.

Nonetheless, most mixed plastics are branded as recyclable by manufacturing firms. But plastic recycling plants find it difficult to repurpose and discard them. All this bewilders customers, who are still determining what can be recycled and are usually tricked into believing many of their items are recycled when actually, they're not.

Most of the mixed plastics used to be imported to China from the USA. The same happened with other nations, as 70% of plastic worldwide went to China. But the scenario changed in 2018 when China decreased almost all waste imports. Now, nations like the US cannot process their plastics and are starting to face the challenges they had swept under the rugs for years.

As per the reports, post-consumer mixed plastics (plastics #3 to 7 and non-bottle plastics #1 and 2) were most affected because China was the leading destination for those types of collected plastic wastes, and there is minimal value, demand or reprocessing capacity for them in the United States of America.

It was stated that federal complaints might be filed soon against manufacturers as they're deceiving the general public concerning the recyclability of their packaging. Further, it was expressed that the recycling industry was facing disruption. Nonetheless, the upcoming US processing capacity aims to enhance the product's recyclability.

The USA ranks behind Europe and China in terms of plastic recycling. According to a study, recycling in the United States has remained at 9 per cent since 2012. But the problem is much huge with the nations needing help with their waste.

A study revealed that of the 8.3 billion metric tons produced, 6.3 billion metric tons have become plastic waste. Of that, only 9% have been recycled. The vast majority, i.e., around 79 per cent, is ending up in landfills and oceans.

Experts agree that we can't just discard all the plastic as it is impossible. Plastic adds longevity to the product and protects it from bacteria. Nonetheless, we can learn to recycle better and replace it with reusable containers.

For example, plastic wrap, bag clips and flexible packaging can't be recycled as it is challenging to manage at the material recovery facility. On the other hand, beverages and other bottles like shampoo and liquid soap can be easily recycled.

Notably, beverage bottles and plastic clamshells are made from the same elements, but not all recycling facilities can process them. However, polystyrene foam can't be recycled as it is made of air and needs a particular machine to process it, which most recycling machines don't have.

In the previous few years, the US has also implemented norms on plastics. For example, Maine and California have implemented restrictions on using single-use plastics such as straws. Now, democrats also emphasise a bill to ban many types of single-use plastics nationwide to cut the problem at its source.

Diksha Khiatani

A writer by day and a reader at night. Emerging from an Engineering background, Diksha has completed her M. Tech in Computer Science field. Being passionate about writing, she started her career as a Writer. She finds it interesting and always grabs time to research and write about Environmental laws and compliances. With extensive knowledge on content writing, she has been delivering high-quality write-ups. Besides, you will often find her with a novel and a cuppa!

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