The recycling ruse

Our collective vision is that the plastic packaging that we put in our recycling bins or take to a recycling center is turned into new plastic products. We imagine a plastic chair or bench being created from our soda and water bottles. We also assume that this waste-to-creation cycle is humming along without a hitch … and we are led to believe that to be a green citizen and save our planet from becoming a plastics waste dump we just have to recycle our plastic packaging. If only that were true!

The truth is that we create more plastic waste than manufacturers of new plastic products are interested in buying—especially in an economic downturn. What happens to the tons of plastics that aren’t purchased to make new products?  Unfortunately, if plastics recycling facilities cannot find manufacturers to purchase the pellets they will make out of what we put in our recycling bins, they dump it. That means “recyclable” plastics that had our best intentions of being rejuvenated into new products are thrown in our landfills, in garbage dumps or the landscape of other countries, or in the ocean … and they never break down …

So what is the answer?  It’s not easy. Like everything we are facing today in our planet’s environment, we need to make some big changes in how we live:

  • reduce our consumption and use of plastics and packaging in general
  • reuse or pass along good stuff to keep it out of the landfill (for example, freecycle.org)
  • recycle the materials for which good markets exist (primarily white paper, newspaper, cardboard, glass, aluminum, and steel)

That means we need to change our habits.  Here’s the dream:

  • Consumers boycott those products packaged in plastic, sending a message to manufacturers.
  • Manufacturers rethink their packaging and use as little as possible.
  • Consumers buy items in bulk, reuse packaging, and use reusable bags.
  • Consumers consider when they purchase items how they will repurpose, share, or give away every product they buy so that it doesn’t end up in the landfill.
  • Manufacturers take responsibility and collect, reuse, and repurpose their own product packaging.

Tough order to fill … but we have to try.

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