The Big Recycling Lie

Written by Kajsa IngelssonJanuary 3, 2021

As a swede, recycling is deeply ingrained in my brain. Every household is doing it, and if you are not, well, you are in public opinion obviously a very troubled and lazy person. However I have been reading a lot about recycling and it’s flaws and inefficiency these days. Curious and hungry for knowledge as I am I decided to do a little dive into the matter.

What I came up with can be summed up as: recycling was a marketing ploy and a direct lie to sell more plastic.

Some hard facts:

° Less than 10 percent of the plastics we’ve used have been recycled.

° Although our landfills and oceans are full of it, we are as dependent as ever on plastic. And since COVID-19, it’s gotten worse. 

° CBC News reports our single-use plastic use increased by 250 to 300 per cent as people tossed their personal protective equipment and stopped using reusable bags and containers over fears they would spread the virus.

° Its estimated that at the minimum 100 000 marine animals die from entanglement or ingestion of plastic each year.

Although activists sounded the alarm about plastic waste in the 1970s, plastic production more than doubled from 1990 to 2010. We’ve been sorting our trash for decades, believing it would be recycled. But the truth is the vast majority of the plastic we use won’t be. Over the last seven decades, less than 10 percent of plastic waste has been recycled

The reasons to this are many, but one of the biggest one being that there’s no economically viable way to recycle most plastic. Anywhere in the world, if you pay attention to the kinds of plastic that are actually littering our streets, beaches, and landfills, you will notice a trend – it’s dominated by low-value plastic like to-go containers, plastic film, candy wrappers, and plastic bags.

(there’s a company working to change this and you can be a part of it! Check this feature with RePurpose out)

Another big reason as to why plastic isn’t really sustainably recyclable is that it takes huge amounts of energy to actually recycle it, plus the fact that it can only be recycled a few times at best, compared to aluminium that can be recycled an infinite amount.

Now i’m not saying that you should stop recycling altogether, but rather that it should be a last resort instead of your go-to. It’s still an important part to minimize and avoid the damage that would have been created if the plastic had instead ended up in the oceans, landfills or burned indiscriminately.

The problem is that if the public thinks that recycling is working, then they’re not going to be as concerned about the environment.

This was the knowledge that our current recycling system was built on. In the ’80s, the plastic industry was at the centre of an environmental blackflash. They feared an outright ban on their products and were looking to get ahead of the problem. Recycling was merely a way to improve the image of their product and they started to label their goods with the now famous chasing-arrows symbol with a number inside.

It was a genius marketing trick to keep their products in the marketplace. There was never an enthusiastic belief that recycling was ultimately going to work and solve the many issues concerning plastic. Yet the plastic industry spent millions on ads selling plastics and recycling to consumers.

In 2020, roughly 60 years after concerns about plastic waste were first raised, the focus is still on the consumer to recycle, and not on the environmental impact of the product and overproduction by the industry.

As the oil and gas industry — which provides the source materials for plastics —  faces a future of declining demand for fuel, it has turned to other markets, plastic being the main one. This equals to the production of plastics being expected to triple by 2050.

By this time, we are also expected to have more plastic than fish in our seas. The stakes are high and it seems like we are heading towards one of the most significantly important wars of our times. Our entire globes well-being depends on our seas to be healthy.

Arm yourself with knowledge, pick up your phone, pen and voting ballot as weapons and do all that you possibly can in your daily life to change and inspire others to join the battle for our oceans.