Op-Ed from Claire Galkowski, our SSRC Coordinator

 

Your plastic containers ARE recycled, and they’re in demand

By Claire Galkowski, Executive Director, South Shore Recycling Cooperative

Are you wondering whether the plastic bottles and containers you put in the recycling bin are getting recycled?  The short answer is an emphatic YES.  And manufacturers want MORE of it to substitute for petroleum-based “virgin” material.

Greenpeace recently released a provocative report asserting that plastic recycling is a “dead end street”.  Several news outlets amplified the report.  Those of us who know the recycling system understand that plastic containers – the #1, 2 and 5 bottles and tubs - actually prop up our other recycling streams, and provide feedstock to both large brand owners and local companies that put them back into products. 

I’ve been a waste warrior and recycling professional for thirty years, most as director of the 18-town South Shore Recycling Cooperative.  I wholeheartedly agree with Greenpeace that the overproduction and consumption of plastics - and, notably, all other materials - is straining our little planet’s ability to support us.  Sowing unwarranted seeds of doubt about the integrity of our recycling programs, though, is like hiding the life preservers in a storm.

The claim that only 5% of plastic is recycled refers to ALL plastics.  It includes non-recyclable disposables- foam, cutlery, blister packs… It also covers durable items like computer housings, carpet, mattresses, and the equipment that helped keep my husband alive in the ICU last year. Most of the bottles and rigid containers that land in recycling bins in our area, though, do become new products.  And there’s capacity in the system for plenty more, IF consumers empty and put them in the right place.

Plastic containers prop up our other recycling streams.  They comprise less than 10% of our residential material, but provide nearly half of its value, subsidizing the low- and negative-valued paper and glass.  Without plastics in our single stream recycling in 2022, average net processing costs (sorting, baling, shipping) would have been more than double the $30/ton in our service area. 

The best solutions to our waste crisis are to reduce the amount of stuff we buy, and replace disposable products with durable reusables.   As for the rest, we can recycle and redeem our clean paper, cardboard, bottles, cans and rigid containers with confidence.  Putting them back into new products is a far happier ending, and beginning, than burning, burying or littering them.

 

[1] https://plasticsrecycling.org/images/library/APR-Report-Recommit-Reimagine-and-Rework-Recycling-2022-8-9.pdf

[2] https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/news/new-greenpeace-report-plastic-recycling-is-a-dead-end-street-year-after-year-plastic-recycling-declines-even-as-plastic-waste-increases/

[3] https://massrecycle.org/podcast/episode-19-big-oil-and-plastics-recycling-the-rest-of-the-story/

[4] https://recyclesmartma.org/

[5] https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/plastics-material-specific-data

[6] https://plasticsrecycling.org/images/library/APR-Report-Recommit-Reimagine-and-Rework-Recycling-2022-8-9.pdf

[7] https://ssrcoop.info/recycling-how-to/