Most of the man-made debris that washes up at Bay View beach is plastic. The reason is simple.
Look at this.
Sadly, it's not true. Because of this.
Why? Contamination. Take your #1 plastic juice bottle. #1 plastic is the sturdiest and most easy/cheap to fully recycle.* Yet to recycle one into another food-grade #1 plastic bottle requires:
- Separating out all other plastics before remelting. One stray #6 plastic out of 1,000 is enough to contaminate the lot.
- Cleaning the plastic to remove all food/waste/oil/toxin residue.
- Sorting all the strains of #1 plastic to avoid contamination.
- Running the cleaned material through the FDA's gauntlet.
- Finally, finding a distributor willing to buy the expensive product.
|Row upon row of plastic|
2.54 million tons of virgin #1 plastic are made each year in the U.S. alone. In 2009, the world's largest #1 bottle-to-bottle recycler opened in Spartanburg, SC. One day it may turn 50,000 tons of #1 plastic back into food-grade recycled material. That's two percent. If we're lucky.
What happens to the rest? Downgraded, downcycled into junkier items, ultimately landfilled. And new, virgin #1 plastic must be created to keep up with the demand.
Take a different plastic, #4 film. The stuff in grocery bags. In 2008, the U.S. produced 7 billion lb. of #4 plastic. Even after 20 years of recycling initiatives, only 12% was recycled. Worse, only 4% of that 12% actually gets turned back into any kind of new film.
|image copyright: American Chemistry Council|
|Grocery bag on the beach|
The story is the same from #1 to #7. The vast majority of plastics can only be recycled once, maybe twice, before becoming worthless. What's stocking the aisles of your grocery store, big-box retailer, etc.? Almost all virgin plastic.*** Almost every bottle you recycle? Replaced by another virgin-plastic bottle, which is added to an already overloaded world.
There's hype about plastic recycling. And then there's the truth: Every year, the U.S. plastic industry adds 50 million tons of new plastic to the world. The only way that plastic will die is in the fires of an incinerator. The only way.
So when you dutifully place that milk bottle or HandiSnacks wrapper in the recycling bin, remember, it's almost certainly going on a one-way trip. It will, one way or another, either end up in a landfill, or your local stream, or the ocean, before it is done.
|Just look down, you'll find it|
Because the triangle is a lie.
* Though generally considered safe, it's also
** The American Chemistry Council loves to talk up the value of plastic recycling. Look for their symbol on many recycling Web sites. Also look for them as sponsors of recycling initiatives nationwide. But their own fact sheets dispell the myth. 50+% of recycled #4 plastic was sold to developing nations in 2008. Many have much lower standards for their plastics and permit very contaminated plastics to be melted together and used in food packaging. Each grocery bag you recycle may be poisoning a family somewhere on the other side of the world.
*** Don't believe the spin that this is from the waste by-products of oil refining. It's made from the same kinds of natural gas that are being harnessed and used as energy the world over. It could find a perfectly good non-plastic life.