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‘Dismal’ recycling ‘not a credible solution’ for plastic waste

The US recycled only about 6% of all plastic scrap in 2021, according to a new report by the Last Beach Cleanup and Beyond Plastics. ‘This should be a wake-up call to the false promise that plastic recycling is a credible solution to plastic waste and pollution,’ both parties urge.

An estimated 85% of post-consumer plastics end up in landfills, and the remaining 10% are incinerated, the report alleges. ‘Factoring in additional losses that aren’t measured, such as plastic waste collected under the pretense of “recycling” that are burned, instead, the US’s true plastic recycling rate may be even lower,’ the report states. For example, some of the scrap is sent to cement kilns and burned in Boise, Idaho and Salt Lake City, Utah.

‘To be clear, the high recycling rates of post-consumer paper, cardboard, and metals prove that recycling can be an effective way to reclaim valuable natural material resources,’ it is noted. ‘Even when millions of tons of waste plastic were still being exported to China each year, plastics recycling never managed to reach 10%.’

‘It’s time to implement real solutions, particularly the reduction of single-use plastic food service items that have the highest likelihood of polluting our environment,’ the organisations conclude.

The US plastics recycling rate peaked at a ‘9.5%’ — including exports several years ago. In that scenario, Plastic waste exports counted as “recycled” plastic. This has been decreasing due to import bans by China and Turkey and contamination limits set by countries under the Basel Convention Plastic Waste Amendments.

The report argues that the peformance of the US plastics recycling industry ‘is now in an irreversible decline to eventual insignificance’.

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