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Greenpeace Report Offers Updated Glimpse at Plastics Recycling in U.S

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How do you know what plastic is recyclable and really recycled in the U.S.? I strongly suggest reading a new Greenpeace report entitled, “Circular Claims Fall Flat: Comprehensive U.S. Survey of Plastics Recyclability.” A comprehensive survey of plastic product waste collection, sortation and reprocessing in the U.S. was performed to determine the legitimacy of “recyclable” claims and labels on consumer plastic products.

Key results of the survey include:

1. Only some PET #1 and HDPE #2 plastic bottles and jugs can be legitimately labeled as recyclable in the U.S. today.
2. Common plastic pollution items, including single use plastic food service and convenience products, cannot be legitimately claimed as recyclable in the U.S.
3. Plastics #3-7 have negligible-to-negative value and are effectively a category of products that municipal recycling programs may collect, but do not actually recycle. Plastics #3-7 waste collected in municipal systems across the country is being sent to landfills or incinerated.
4. Many full body shrink sleeves on PET #1 and HDPE #2 bottles and jugs make them non-recyclable.

“Since China enacted policies limiting plastic waste imports, there have been significant changes in plastics acceptance policies of U.S. material recovery facilities due to declines in the demand for and value of collected plastic material,” the report says. “Post-consumer ‘mixed’ plastics (plastics #3-7 and non-bottle plastics #1 and #2) have been most affected because China was the primary destination for those types of collected plastic wastes and there is minimal demand, value or reprocessing capacity for them in the U.S. Some material recovery facilities (MRFs) still accept mixed plastics but dispose of it or continue to export it outside of North America.”

According to the report, the flooding of the market with new, lower cost plastic is hurting the viability of higher-cost recycled plastic.

Do you know what plastics are being recycled in your local area? Check with your waste collector. According to the report, in Florida, the Department of Environmental Protection advises residents to only recycle plastic bottles and jugs and current viable markets in the U.S. only exist for PET #1 and HDPE #2 plastic bottles and jugs.

Certainly something to consider from the report as you consider your property’s own plastics consumption: “We cannot recycle or compost our way out of the growing plastic pollution problem. Instead of pretending that the trillions of throwaway plastic items produced each year will be recycled or composted, we must stop producing so many of them in the first place. To meet their ‘recyclable, reusable or compostable’ pledge commitments, companies must become serious about employing reusable/refillable business models.” In addition to not producing them, we should all do our part to stop purchasing throwaway plastics.

To read the report and learn much more about the current state or plastics recycling, click here.

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