Janelle Sorensen, Healthy Child Healthy World:
Plastics are everywhere and extremely convenient, but our increasing use of them is causing enormous amounts of pollution. Every bit of plastic that has ever been created still exists (except for the little bit that has been incinerated, which released other persistent toxic chemicals).
Plastic is generally toxic to produce, toxic to use, and toxic to dispose of. Many people believe recycling is the answer, but is it really? Here are some common misconceptions.
Misconception # 1: By recycling plastic, you are reducing the amount of plastic that goes to the landfill (also known as 'the dump').
Collecting plastic containers at curbside fosters the belief that, like aluminum and glass, the recovered material is converted into new containers. However, most recovered plastic containers aren't recycled into containers, but rather made into textiles, parking lot bumpers, or plastic lumber - all unrecyclable products.
Since most recycled plastic are converted into products that are unrecyclable, it is only temporarily diverted from landfills. This process is known as "down-cycling." Furthermore, if collecting plastic for recycling makes it seem more environmentally-friendly, people may feel comfortable buying more of it - adding to the problem.
Misconception # 2: A chasing arrows symbol means a plastic container is recyclable.
The useful information is the number inside the arrows, or the letters underneath, which indicate the general class of plastic, or resin, used to make the container. Local municipalities have different laws for what they collect (check with your local city government). Generally, #1 (PETE) and #2 (HDPE) are most often collected and recycled.
Since different resins cannot be reprocessed together, collected batches must be sorted, which is labor-intensive and time-consuming. Batches are easily contaminated, and if so, become "residue," a new category of waste!
Misconception # 3: Plastics recyclers pay to promote plastics' recyclability.
Most recycling ads are placed by virgin plastic manufacturers whose goal is to promote plastic sales. These advertisements are aimed at removing or diminishing virgin plastic's greatest challenge to market expansion: negative public conception of plastic as unrecyclable, environmentally harmful, and a major component of wastes that must be landfilled or burned.
Misconception # 4: Using plastic containers conserves energy.
Making plastic containers uses as much energy as making glass containers from virgin materials, and much more than making glass containers from recycled materials. BUT, shipping products in plastic uses less fuel than shipping in something heavier, like glass. It's a complicated problem that many manufacturers and environmentalists have been debating for years. Each specific situation may be a little different. The easiest solution for you? Use refillables containers.
Misconception # 5: Our choice is limited to recycling or wasting.
Not at all.
Cutting back on your plastic is the best solution, and easy to do. Try switching over to refillable containers, buying in bulk, buying things that don't need much packaging, and buying things in recyclable and recycled packages. Learn more tips using our 5 Easy Steps.
Do you have any other questions about plastics? Any other myths to bust? Let us know in the comments!
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