Have you noticed that “recyclable” symbols seem to be on everything these days? Yet, as of 2017, only 8% of plastics actually get recycled. Did you know that technically anything COULD be recycled with the right amount of time, money and technology?

So then, why is only 8% actually recycled?

1. There is far too much plastic waste and too many different types, shapes and sizes to sort effectively. Sorters grab only what they know, like water bottles and milk jugs. They don’t have time to check small or odd shaped containers for recycling numbers like we’re made to think.

2. Plastic recycling is typically contaminated. It’s often dirty, or mixed with “other” plastics which can ruin whole batches. It’s cheaper to buy clean, new plastic.

3.It’s too expensive for most cities as new plastic is more valuable. Plastics can only be recycled 1-2 times before they’re downgraded to waste. Many municipalities pay more to actually recycle or simply discard large quantities of it when no one will buy it.

I talk to business owners or makers all the time who mean well but are unintentionally misleading their own customers due to the lies they’re being told by the companies making their packaging. If manufacturers can convince business owners that their packaging is “recyclable” then we feel better about using it and selling it for them.

This doesn’t just apply to plastics. Aluminum cans are easy and quick to sort but things like aluminum toothpaste tubes or aluminum to go containers? Not so much. Aluminum tubes or foil, etc are typically not recycled for the same reasons listed above even though aluminum is recyclable infinitely. If it’s not easily sortable, it’s “trash.”

We have to be smart enough to not believe the “recyclable” marketing schemes growing around us. Manufacturers need to be held responsible for deceiving the public while neglecting to invest in recycling infrastructure. Check out the documentary Plastic Wars by PBS and NPR to learn more!

As discouraging as this is, I hope this serves as a reminder that your efforts to reduce aren’t in vain! Just a few years ago most people I talked to didn’t know what going Zero Waste actually meant. Now, those same people are trying it. Although most people can't go completely zero waste, millions of people doing zero waste imperfectly, is far better than a few people doing it perfectly. 


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