Case Study: How The US Might Be Able To Increase Glass Recycling Rates

Case Study: How The US Might Be Able To Increase Glass Recycling Rates

This is a guide/case study with some main points outlining how the US might be able to increase glass recycling rates.

 

A Note On The Resources Mentioned In This Guide

  • The guide extrapolates on, and paraphrases or uses direct relevant quotes from an existing article by Cen.acs.org. You can view the full article here – https://cen.acs.org/materials/inorganic-chemistry/glass-recycling-US-broken/97/i6
  • The article listed by Recyclingtoday.com is also worth a read for an explanation of how glass recycling myths can be debunked, and what the right glass recycling equipment and facilities can do
  • We’ve also linked to our own guide about some of the pros and cons of recycling in general at the bottom if you’d like to read more

 

The Current State Of US Glass Recycling

  • [Currently, only about one third of the glass disposed of in the US gets recycled annually].
  • [Comparatively] There is a 90% recycling rate [for glass] in Switzerland, Germany, and other European countries

Note that this is a reflection of the national glass recycling picture in the US … cities and specific locations in the US like San Francisco may have much higher or lower recycling rates for different materials.

 

Benefits Of Recycling More Glass

  • Cullet (a granular material made by crushing bottles and jars usually collected from recycling programs) benefits glassmakers, the environment, and consumers [in several different ways]
  • Read about those ways and the estimates of these benefits in the original article

 

Potential Reasons For Current Glass Recycling Rates In The US (& Challenges & Difficulties)

  • [The lack of glass recycling in the US is not because there is a lack of knowledge of how to do it]
  • [Ultimately there’s many reasons more glass isn’t recycled … and these include] the interplay between the quality and availability of cullet and the economics of making glass, [and] differences [with other countries] in government policy and consumer education and habits
  • More specific reasons include …
  • … glassmakers are limited by what recycled material is available to them at a manageable cost [especially clean, furnace-ready cullet produced from single stream processing]. [Clean, furnace ready cullet is processed] inefficiently [in the US] compared with what happens in Europe
  • … US municipalities manage residential recycling primarily via single-stream curbside collection [that mixes glass with other materials … even non recyclables that incorrectly get thrown in the recycling bin … and contamination of glass can be a problem in this instance, along with sorting for material with commercial value]. [Roughly 40% of glass put in single stream recycling gets recycled compared to about 90% of glass put into multi stream recycling … and this mainly comes down to] the difference in the quality of glass from the two streams
  • [Multi stream recycling is far] is simpler on the processing end [than single stream recycling because glass is separated by consumers from other recyclables into glass only bins]
  • [A con to multi stream recycling is] a high level of consumer education [is usually required] and [it] is considerably more expensive than single-stream collection. [But, a couples of pros of multi stream recycling are that] the glass is much cleaner than what comes out of the single-stream supply, [and] glass can go straight to cullet processors [and skip sorting facilities]
  • Single stream recycling is ultimately an inherently inefficient and expensive recycling method. But most municipalities in the US stick with single stream because the collection costs are lower than those with multi-stream systems
  • Another reason is the size of the US, and distance between a materials recovery facility and a cullet supplier, or a cullet supplier and a buyer tend to be greater [than in European nations] … [and this presents an economic issue because transport is costly]
  • Another reason is that costs of recovering cullet are impacted by cullet specifications that vary between manufacturers [because different suppliers need to meet the needs of different manufacturers]
  • So, overall, we see costs and limited supply of cullet are an issue

 

How The US Might Increase Glass Recycling Rates

  • Implementation of multi stream recycling that separates glass from other recyclable materials, and separates glass from non recyclables that incorrectly get put in the recycling bins at the consumer level and contaminate recyclable material
  • Multi stream recycling can ultimately lead to ‘large quantities of high-quality cullet that are essential to further increase the recycled content in products’
  • To switch to multi-stream systems, US municipalities would need to introduce taxes or fees to meet the higher collection and handling costs. And most municipalities are reluctant to do so.
  • There would also need to be some type of subsidy to support transport of glass waste and cullet due to the distance between waste pickup locations, material recovery facilities, cullet suppliers, and buyers
  • Finding a way to standardise or streamline cullet recovery and cullet specifications for suppliers and manufacturers would also help
  • Local and state based glass recycling systems and facilities can help (recycling programs, cullet processors, suppliers, manufacturers, etc.)
  • Making recycling more of a social and cultural norm through education and awareness can help
  • Higher landfill costs can help – it discourages easy and convenient cheap dumping of glass into landfills, and encourages more recycling
  • Where recycling is legislated can help – Europe legislates nationally and not locally

But, ultimately, all parties need to work together – the honus and expectation can’t just fall on waste collection companies, manufacturers, and suppliers via legislation… consumers, government and other parties have to help and do their part to change and support the systems as well.

 

Recyclingtoday.com also gives examples of how common glass recycling myths might be debunked, and how the right glass recycling equipment (which requires upgrading most of the current equipment and glass recycling facilities) can solve some glass recycling problems. Read more at https://www.recyclingtoday.com/article/busting-myths-about-glass-recycling/

 

The Pros & Cons Of Recycling In General

Not all materials and products make sense to recycle in general, and then of course recycling can have different pros and cons based on the country or city in question (different cities have different recycling and waste management systems and capabilities).

Read more about the various potential pros and cons of recycling to consider in this guide: 

 

Sources

1. https://cen.acs.org/materials/inorganic-chemistry/glass-recycling-US-broken/97/i6

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/pros-and-cons-of-recycling-benefits-disadvantages/

3. https://www.recyclingtoday.com/article/busting-myths-about-glass-recycling/

4. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/how-to-practically-increase-recycling-composting-rates-decrease-landfill-waste-a-san-francisco-city-case-study/

Pros & Cons Of Burning/Incinerating Plastic

Pros & Cons Of Burning/Incinerating Plastic

In the interest of finding out the best way to dispose of plastic, we’ve put together this guide outlining the pros and cons of burning/incinerating plastic

 

Summary – Pros & Cons Of Burning/Incinerating Plastic

  • The reality is that it’s not always practical, possible or beneficial to burn plastic, or use it in waste for energy applications
  • Every local government needs to do a waste management assessment to figure out the best solution to manage or dispose of plastic in their region
  • Incinerating or burning plastic for energy may be beneficial in some ways, and have drawbacks in others. The same can be said for recycling plastic, and also sending it to landfill. The type of plastic, and plastic items and products need to be taken into consideration too (as each may present different challenges and variables)
  • The more sustainable options may be to use less total plastic, produce less total plastic waste, and re-use and repurpose plastic where possible and beneficial
  • Another way to say it is … reduce, reuse where possible, and then look at recycling … and then look at whether to bury or burn plastic

 

Pros Of Burning/Incinerating Plastic

  • Burning waste can produce a lot of energy – enough to generate enough electricity for local grids in some instances. Energy from plastic can also be used for applications like providing energy to manufacture cement (bbc.com)
  • Plastic specifically as a material is more energy dense than coal – because it’s made of hydrocarbons like oil (nationalgeographic.com). Some plastic is made from natural gas too  
  • Plastic is a direct substitute for burning fossil fuels for energy in some instances 
  • Burning plastic addresses one of the biggest perceived problems with plastic – plastic takes a long time to degrade and break down. This means plastic spends a longer time in landfills, or out polluting the environment than other materials. Burning plastic addresses this problem (but admittedly, you are still left with emissions and waste ash to treat and manage)
  • If plastic production rates and totals increase into the future, burning plastic waste may be necessary – especially in places that are scarce of land for landfill, or that lack the recycling facilities
  • Emissions and air pollutants from incinerators can be managed – with scrubbers, precipitators, and filters to capture toxic pollutants and compounds such as dioxins, acid gases, and heavy metals (nationalgeographic.com). Bag rooms [also] bring [down] levels of pollution (treehugger.com)
  • Incinerator ash can be re-used or recycled, or simply treated and disposed of in a safe way
  • Pyrolysis may be the plastic burning method of the future – it has many benefits over conventional waste to energy and incineration, as well as over gasification (it doesn’t emit air pollution contaminants … only a small amount of CO2) (nationalgeographic.com)
  • Incineration of plastic provides an option for contaminated or non recyclable plastic – not all plastic can be recycled, and a lot of plastic is rejected or sent away from recycling facilities for different reasons. Incineration provides another option to dispose of this plastic next to landfill
  • Incineration can provide at least temporary relief for countries that need short term solutions to the China plastic import ban – incineration can ease the pressure on landfills for example

 

Cons Of Burning/Incinerating Plastic

  • Plastic is not a renewable resource (yet) – so, plastic incineration does not mask the fact that plastic products and waste being generated in the first place is unsustainable and causes pollution in a lot of ways before plastic can be burnt. Many sources indicate that incineration as it currently exists doesn’t contribute to a circular or sustainable society (pyrolysis can be the one exception to this though if the by products of plastic pyrolysis are used for new high quality material) (nationalgeographic.com). Burning plastic can be a non eco friendly and non sustainable easy way out for many countries and cities looking to take shortcuts or make profit in getting rid of plastic
  • Incineration technology can be expensive, and hard to scale – not every city and country can afford environmentally friendly or effective incineration technology. For example a plant in Scandanavia spent a billion kroner to try to meet the European standards for dioxin [emissions] (treehugger.com). Incineration can have various challenges that can make it harder to scale than say landfill. For example, incinerator plants need guaranteed streams of waste coming to them to be economically feasible in many instances
  • Burning plastic isn’t always energy efficient – plastics burned in incinerators set up to generate only electricity create heat at 25% efficiency. This is much lower than the 55% efficiency for new gas-fired power stations (bbc.com)
  • Recycling can be better than incineration of plastic in some ways – studies have shown that recycling plastic waste saves more energy—by reducing the need to extract fossil fuel and process it into new plastic—than burning it, along with other household waste, can generate (nationalgeographic.com)
  • Air pollution and air contamination from incineration emissions can degrade air quality and impact human health – toxic pollutants such as dioxins, acid gases, and heavy metals can be an issue. Additionally, these pollutants can only be captured with sophisticated technology, and the technology is only useful if combustion plants are properly operated and emissions controlled (nationalgeographic.com). Some sources indicate US incineration plants don’t meet the environmental standards that some European ones do, nor do they have the latest pollution controls (treehugger.com). Read more about waste incineration pollution, and ash control and management, in the thisiseco.co.uk resource below.
  • Greenhouse gases from incineration plants and plastics can be an issue –  In 2016, U.S. waste incinerators released the equivalent of 12 million tons of carbon dioxide, more than half of which came from plastics (nationalgeographic.com). When coal is phased out for generating electricity, incineration of unrecycled waste will be the most CO2-intensive form of generation (bbc.com)
  • Incineration ash can be hazardous and can be an issue – Waste to energy and incineration plants have incinerator ash that needs to be managed, recycled or disposed of in an eco friendly way
  • Even pyrolysis has it’s problems – pyrolysis is an expensive and immature technology, and it is still cheaper to make diesel from fossil fuel than from waste plastic (nationalgeographic.com)
  • Some sources indicate landfill is more eco friendly than incineration – In environmental terms, it is generally better to bury plastic than to burn it … [and there is the case to be made] that burying waste plastic in landfill is actually a cheap form of carbon capture and storage (bbc.com)

 

Other Resources On Disposing Of Plastic

 

Sources

1. Various other BMR guides on plastic and waste management

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/best-way-to-dispose-of-plastic-recycle-landfill-or-burn-incinerate/

3. https://www.thisiseco.co.uk/news_and_blog/what-happens-to-waste-to-energy-incineration-ash.html

4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incineration

5. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/03/should-we-burn-plastic-waste/

6. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-43120041

7. https://www.treehugger.com/plastic/single-use-plastics-are-being-incinerated-instead-recycled-usa.html

Pros & Cons Of Sending Plastic To Landfill

Pros & Cons Of Sending Plastic To Landfill

In the interest of finding out the best way to dispose of plastic, we’ve put together this guide outlining the pros and cons of sending plastic to landfill.

 

Summary – Pros & Cons Of Sending Plastic To Landfill

  • Plastic in landfill seems to get a bad reputation in a lot of places, whilst recycling plastic or sending it to waste for energy incineration can be seen as magic bullets or clear cut solutions
  • The reality is that it’s not always practical, possible or beneficial to recycle plastic or burn it for energy (for various reasons)
  • Every local government needs to do a waste management assessment to figure out the best solution to manage or dispose of plastic in their region
  • Landfill may be beneficial in some ways, and have drawbacks in others. The same can be said for recycling and burning plastic. The type of plastic, and plastic items and products need to be taken into consideration too (as each may present different challenges and variables)
  • The more sustainable options may be to use less total plastic, produce less total plastic waste, and re-use and repurpose plastic where possible and beneficial

 

Pros Of Sending Plastic To Landfill

  • Every city has different waste management collection and disposal systems, technology and facilities – In a specific city, landfill may be the best option across a range of indicators and considerations compared to incineration/waste to energy, and recycling, for some types of plastic and plastic items. As one example, recycling and incineration technology in a particular city may be so inefficient, ineffective or have so many drawbacks, that landfill by default becomes the best disposal option for some types of plastic or all plastics
  • Some plastics are non recyclable or present major challenges to recycle – landfill may be the best option for these plastics (where incineration is also not possible or not beneficial). Apart from the non recyclable plastics example, recycling can be more expensive, time consuming, resource consuming and energy consuming
  • Ability to isolate plastic to one location – In a landfill with a good landfill liner, effective leachate management system, and one that is well contained/secure/closed off around the perimeter, at least plastic is being isolated to one area with less risk of external pollution problems arising
  • Potential advantages over incineration – Plastic in landfill is less of a chance to cause air pollution and air contamination issues (and subsequently less likely to degrade air quality) compared to incineration
  • Plastic doesn’t emit GHGs in landfill like other materials might – Plastic isn’t an organic material. This means it doesn’t emit methane in landfill like organic material like food scraps does
  • The end destination for a lot of plastic (if not the environment) is landfill anyway – A lot of plastic eventually ends up in landfill any way due to a range of reasons, such as being rejected at recycling facilities (contamination is one reason for this), or the fact that plastics can only be recycled a certain number of times any way before they degrade in quality and performance too much to be recycled again
  • Landfill may be more beneficial in the short term for countries with money and organisational problems – Landfill is a much cheaper, easier, and quicker option to have at least one effective mode of plastic disposal/management for some lower income countries, regions and cities. The same may also apply to places with a lack of good organisational, institutional, and political structures
  • Plastic takes up less space in landfill than some other materials – An indirect benefit of plastic in landfill is that it takes up less space than other materials like paper in landfill

 

Cons Of Sending Plastic To Landfill

  • Plastic still takes up space in landfill, and can occupy that space for a long time – Plastic takes a very long time to break down and degrade (it’s not actually known how long some plastics take to fully break down). So, plastic in landfill may be sitting there for a very long time taking up space and resources while it breaks down
  • Recycling may be more beneficial in some ways than landfill – Some types of plastic may provide more benefit economically, socially or environmentally when recycled compared to being disposed of in landfill
  • Incineration and burning plastic for energy may be more beneficial in some ways than landfill – Some types of plastic may provide far more benefit economically, socially or environmentally when incinerated or when used for ‘waste for energy’ – especially when the incineration technology can severely minimise or eliminate air pollution, and there is an effective method in place to deal with incinerator ash and waste
  • Unsecure, uncontained and open landfill and dumping sites can be an issue – Plastic can leak/escape into the environment (creating plastic pollution problems) when disposed of in an unsecure or open landfill, or in open dumping sites 
  • Some plastics may be more of a problem than others in landfills – There’s debate over the toxicity and leaching of specific types of plastic in landfills, such as some types of PVC and plastics with synthetic additives. Landfill liners and leachate management can somewhat help with this. But, even liners need to be replaced after a certain amount of time
  • Some plastic problems can only be solved by not producing as much plastic in the first place – so, landfills can help with some problems, but, the preferable option across many sustainability indicators may be to not produce or use as much plastic in the first place

 

Other Resources On Disposing Of Plastic

 

Sources

1. Various other BMR guides on plastic and waste management

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/best-way-to-dispose-of-plastic-recycle-landfill-or-burn-incinerate/

A Realistic Plastic Free Living (Or Plastic Free July) Guide, With Tips

A Realistic Plastic Free Living (Or Plastic Free July) Guide, With Tips

The terms ‘plastic free’ gets used a lot by some people, and, plastic free living along with challenges like Plastic Free July are seemingly becoming more common.

But, what is a realistic way to define plastic free, or make it part of your own lifestyle?

We provide some unique context on these things in this guide (from our perspective, and not necessarily what you might read or see in other plastic free guides), and also provide some tips on how the average person might go ‘plastic free’ in a more practical way.

 

If You Live In A Modern City Or Location, It’s Virtually Impossible Not To Use Plastics

Unless you live a more isolated or custom built life away from most of modern civilisation, and you don’t often travel, the odds are good that you aren’t living 100% plastic free.

The reality of modern living is that plastics exist almost everywhere.

We all use them both directly and indirectly almost daily … consider comprehensive answers to these questions:

  • What are all of the pipes in your house, or under the pavements and roads made of? 
  • What are all the materials in your car made of, or the bus/train/tram/plane you use to get around?
  • What are all the materials made of that are required for the energy equipment and cables that supply you with electricity?

We use plastic in many different industries, and the plastic we use  can provide us with significant benefits we couldn’t easily, reliably or affordably get from other materials in some instances

Something people may not know, is that plastic bags (according to one recent Danish study), are better as carrier bags across a range of environmental and human toxicity indicators when considering production and waste disposal, compared to paper, cotton, organic cotton, and composite (including jute) bags. This study did not take into account the impact of plastic litter, and various other indicators or factors like economic impact, but you get the picture … plastic isn’t always the villain it’s made out to be. Plastic has it’s pros and cons like anything. 

Back to the topic of this guide … living ‘plastic free’ or participating in a plastic free challenge almost certainly means you are still going to be using some plastics, directly or indirectly.

What you might focus on instead is reducing or eliminating the use of plastics that are potentially or clearly more problematic or harmful.

 

Problematic &/Or Harmful Plastics

Some types of plastic have the potential to be more problematic and harmful than others (or they clearly are).

They may include:

  • Commonly Littered Plastics, Or Plastics Commonly Found During Volunteer Waste Cleanups
  • High Waste Plastic, & Plastic With Short ‘In-Use’ Lifetime
  • Non Recyclable Plastic
  • Plastics That Take The Longest To Break Down & Degrade
  • Plastics That Might Leach Chemicals, Or Are Made With Potentially Problematic Additives & Substances
  • Plastic Most Prevalent In Land Pollution
  • Plastic Most Prevalent In Ocean Pollution

 

How You Might Change Your Plastic Footprint – Tips For A Plastic Free July Or Living Plastic Free

With the above information in mind, these are some realistic tips you may choose to consider for changing your plastic footprint, or living a more ‘plastic free’ lifestyle.

You may choose to follow one, a combination, or all of them (in as a relaxed, or strict way as you deem suitable for your own life circumstances):

  • Buy new plastic less frequently (in products, or packaging)
  • Re-use existing plastic more frequently (such as shopping bags)
  • Repurpose existing plastic more frequently (such as using plastic bags for bin liners)
  • Dispose of existing plastic less frequently (can achieve through more re-use and repurposing)
  • Reduce your own litter (by using bins, or re-using and repurposing at all times where possible)
  • Pick up or clean up littered plastic where possible, and/or participate in clean ups
  • Use less and buy less products with plastic packaging, or short use/single use plastics
  • Use less non recyclable plastics (generally, plastics #1 and #2 are more recyclable than others, but it also matters how you dispose of your recyclable plastics – so, know your local recycling guidelines)
  • Be mindful of whether you are using plastics that take a long time to break down (but in reality, all plastics take a long time to degrade and break down – so, it’s better to use less plastic in general)
  • Use alternative materials to plastic that can leach where easily substitutable (e.g. use a glass or stainless steel drink bottle, or food container)
  • Use less textiles with synthetic fibres (e.g. buy natural fibre clothing and garments where you can, or buy second hand)
  • Buy more natural products (that don’t have man made additives, or aren’t packaged in plastic) in general where realistic (e.g. buying natural personal care products where possible may reduce micro beads and other plastics)

There are many more tips you can implement, but the above are some good individual points to consider.

On a society wide and global level, there are many more things we can be doing to try to address and solve the plastic problems we face.

 

Being Conscious Of Your Plastic Footprint Is Great, But, There Are Other Ways To Live A Sustainable Life, Or Lower Your Individual Sustainability Footprint

If someone wants to do something about their plastic footprint, that is obviously a positive.

But, it can also be beneficial to take a wider view, or get a bigger picture about how individuals can live a more sustainable life (and know that people can contribute in other ways).

As we outlined in our link to the life cycle assessment of plastic bags above … many sustainability experts have pointed out that choices in these areas of your life (and other ares) can have significant impact on living a sustainable and/or eco friendly lifestyle:

  • What you choose to eat
  • The transport you use
  • The size of the house you live in and how well insulated or efficient the energy or heating/cooling is
  • Your overall consumption behavior (what you consume, how you consume, how often you consume, how frequently you re-use, and so on)

So, be aware of all choices in your lifestyle, and how significant or effective each is when it comes to sustainability.

You may be contributing (or capable or contributing) to a better world in more ways than you initially thought.

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/what-is-plastic-used-for-in-society-sectors-that-use-the-most-plastic/

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/ways-in-which-plastic-benefits-society-the-environment-the-economy/

3. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/what-are-the-most-problematic-harmful-types-of-plastic/

4. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/should-we-ban-plastic-bags-are-they-better-or-worse-than-other-types-of-bags/

5. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/the-pros-cons-of-plastic/

6. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/solutions-to-plastic-problems-how-to-solve-plastic-pollution-how-to-manage-plastic-in-society-in-the-future/

What Are The Most Problematic & Harmful Types Of Plastic?

What Are The Most Problematic & Harmful Types Of Plastic?

There’s several ways you could classify or rank plastic as problematic or harmful.

So, what we’ve done in this guide is identified the different ways that plastic can be problematic or harmful, and identified the types of plastic to aware of in each case.

 

Summary – Most Problematic Or Harmful Types Of Plastic

We’ve categorised them in the following ways:

  • Most Littered Plastic, & Most Commonly Found During Cleanups
  • High Waste Plastic, & Plastic With Short ‘In-Use’ Lifetime
  • Non Recyclable Plastic
  • Plastics That Take The Longest To Break Down & Degrade
  • Plastics That Leach Chemicals, Or Are Made With Problem Additives & Substances
  • Plastic Most Prevalent In Land Pollution
  • Plastic Most Prevalent In Ocean Pollution

 

Most Littered Plastic, & Most Commonly Found Plastics During Land Cleanups

Littered plastic waste and waste found on land and on beaches (as well as in rivers) contributes to plastic pollution problems.

There’s a few guides we’ve written about these types of plastic and general waste:

As a summary of plastics to be aware of in this category:

Beaches

  • Cigarette butts
  • Plastic food wrappers
  • Plastic beverage bottles,
  • Plastic bottle caps and lids
  • Plastic grocery bags and other types plastic bags
  • Plastic straws and stirrers
  • Plastic containers
  • Plastic cutlery (forks, spoons, knives, plates) 
  • Plastic cups
  • Styrofoam cups

Land

  • Many of the same items found on beaches

Rivers

  • Cigarette butts
  • Plastic bottles and bottle caps
  • Plastic food packaging
  • Plastic bags

 

High Waste Plastic, & Plastic With Short ‘In-Use’ Lifetime

Plastic that becomes waste quicker than others is going to contribute to plastic waste management and plastic waste pollution problems more than others (amongst other issues).

Plastic packaging produces the most total plastic waste, and has one of the shortest ‘in-use’ lifetimes among different plastic types.

From OurWorldInData.org: “Packaging, for example, has a very short ‘in-use’ lifetime (typically around 6 months or less). This is in contrast to building and construction, where plastic use has a mean lifetime of 35 years”

Many people refer to different types of plastic packaging as ‘single use plastics’ or ‘disposable plastics’ – such as plastic shopping bags and plastic food wrappers, just as two of many examples.

But, plastic packaging doesn’t just used on the consumer side, it also gets used for transport and delivery of products to store (plastic bags, plastic cushioning, plastic ties and fastening material, plastic containers and boxes, and so on.

 

Non Recyclable Plastic

Some plastics are more recyclable than others, whilst some plastics cannot be recycled at all.

What can and can’t be recycled in terms of plastics depends on the city, and the recycling services and capabilities they offer.

But typically, plastics #1 (PET) and #2 (HDPE) are recycled widely. These plastics tend to be hard plastics like plastic bottles, jugs, containers etc.

Soft plastics tend not to be recycled as widely (although, some cities do offer individual soft plastic recycling).

It should be noted, non recyclable plastics are only more of an issue when recycling is the best disposal option for plastics, and not say landfill or incineration.

 

Plastics That Take The Longest To Break Down & Degrade

The longer plastics spend in landfills, or out in the environment, the more opportunity they have to cause a range of problems.

The reality is that all plastics can take a long time to break down and degrade, but some plastics take longer than others, such as fishing line, diapers, toothbrushes, plastic cups and bottles, plastic 6 rings, and straws, just to name a few.

 

Plastics That Leach Chemicals, Or Are Made With Problem Additives & Substances

There are conflicting studies and reports regarding the impact of BPAs and Phthalates in common consumer goods that contain plastic, as well as the impact that certain plastic types like PVC have at various stages of their life cycle.

Specifically, there are human health concerns with plastics that contain BPAs and Phthalates, and there are toxicity concerns (amongst other concerns) with some types of PVC.

Read more about plastic leaching, as well as BPAs, Phthalates, and PVC plastic in this guide.

 

Plastic Most Prevalent In Land Pollution

Plastic on land comes from many sources.

One of the major sources of plastic in soil, rivers, water and bottled water supplies, food, and so on, is thought to be from plastic fibres in the clothes we wear and the textiles we use.

But, in reality, plastic pollution on land happens in many ways.

Read more about plastic on land in this guide:

 

Plastic Most Prevalent In Ocean Pollution

Plastic in the ocean mainly comes from land based plastic (about 70 to 80% of the total plastic in the ocean is from land based sources), and the rest comes from marine sources (about 20-30%).

Plastic from land can come from plastic packaging and other types of plastic, and marine based plastic can come from fishing vessels and other sea vessels (marine plastic can include fishing gear and equipment like nets and fishing lines, and dumped waste and gear from ships)

Read more about plastic in the ocean in this guide:

 

Other Factors To Consider With Problem Plastics

Certain countries and regions of the world may be responsible for more plastic production, plastic waste generation, mismanaged plastic, and polluted plastic going in rivers and the ocean than others.

You can read more about those countries and regions at https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/most-common-plastic-waste-generated-found-on-beaches-in-oceans-on-land/

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/most-commonly-littered-items-in-society-land-rivers-beaches-oceans/

3. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/most-common-types-of-waste-found-in-oceans-on-beaches/

4. Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2019) – “Plastic Pollution”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution’ [Online Resource]

5. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/what-plastics-can-cannot-be-recycled-how-to-find-out/

6. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/best-way-to-dispose-of-plastic-recycle-landfill-or-burn-incinerate/

7. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/how-long-plastic-takes-to-break-down-degrade-in-landfills-in-the-ocean-the-environment/

8. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/potentially-harmful-effects-of-plastic-on-the-environment-wildlife-humans-health-the-economy/

9. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/plastic-pollution-on-land-faq-guide/

10. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/plastic-in-the-ocean-faq-guide/

‘Why Plastic …’ (FAQ Guide)

'Why Plastic ...' (FAQ Guide)

This is a short FAQ guide answering some of the most common questions that include ‘Why Plastic … X ‘

 

Why Was Plastic Invented?

There should be a distinction between the first synthetic polymer that was invented, and the first fully synthetic plastic that was invented:

  • The first synthetic polymer was invented in 1869 by John Wesley Hyatt, who was inspired by a New York firm’s offer of $10,000 for anyone who could provide a substitute for ivory
  • In 1907 Leo Baekeland invented Bakelite … [in part] to meet the needs of the rapidly electrifying United States

– sciencehistory.org

 

Why Is Plastic Bad/Why Is It Harmful/Why Say No To Plastic

Read about some of the potentially harmful effects of plastic in this guide:

 

Why Plastic Pollution Is A Problem

Plastic pollution causes several potential issues on land in the ocean. Read more in these guides:

Also note, a more indirect form of plastic pollution might occur from the burning of plastic waste – where air pollution could occur (from dioxins and other air or atmosphere contaminants), and incinerator ash could cause pollution if not treated or recycled or disposed of properly.

 

Why Is Plastic In The Ocean

Because there are both land based, and ocean based plastic sources responsible for putting plastic into the ocean.

Plastic from the ocean mainly ends up there from coastal populations within 50kms of the coast line, and rivers are a significant way that plastic from inland gets carried out to coastal populations (ourworldindata.org)

Marine based plastic sources mainly come from fishing vessels (fishing gear, fishing equipment, dumped gear and and equipment like pots).

 

Why Plastic Bags Should Or Should Not Be Banned

Read more in this guide:

 

Why Plastic Straws Should Or Should Not Be Banned

Read more in this guide:

 

Why Plastic Bottles Should Or Should Not Be Banned

Unlike plastic straws and plastic bags, plastic bottles tend to be hard plastic, and can generally be recycled, so there tends to be a weaker push to have plastic bottles banned (amongst other reasons such as plastic bottles being a more necessary plastic item).

 

Sources

1. https://www.sciencehistory.org/the-history-and-future-of-plastics

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/potentially-harmful-effects-of-plastic-on-the-environment-wildlife-humans-health-the-economy/

3. Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2019) – “Plastic Pollution”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org.Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution’ [Online Resource]

4. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/should-we-ban-plastic-straws-potential-impact-of-plastic-straws-a-comparison-to-plastic-straw-alternatives/

5. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/should-we-ban-plastic-bags-are-they-better-or-worse-than-other-types-of-bags/

‘Where Plastic …’ (FAQ Guide)

'Where Plastic ...' (FAQ Guide)

This is a short FAQ guide answering some of the most common questions that include ‘Where Plastic … X ‘

 

Where Was Plastic Invented

There should be a distinction between the first synthetic polymer that was invented, and the first fully synthetic plastic that was invented:

  • The first synthetic polymer was invented in 1869 by John Wesley Hyatt, who was inspired by a New York firm’s offer of $10,000 for anyone who could provide a substitute for ivory
  • In 1907 Leo Baekeland invented Bakelite … [in part] to meet the needs of the rapidly electrifying United States

– sciencehistory.org

 

Where Does Plastic Come From, & Where Is It Made

Most plastic comes from fossil fuels.

In the US, plastic starts out with crude oil refining or natural gas processing

The compounds from these processes are used by ‘Chemists [who] combine various types of monomers in many different arrangements to make an almost infinite variety of plastics with different chemical properties’ (science.howstuffworks.com)

 

Where Is Plastic Used

Plastic is used across different industries, for different uses and applications, and different countries lead in terms of overall production and plastic waste …

 

This guide outlines the industries that use the most plastic in society:

This guide outlines the various uses and benefits we have for plastic in society:

In terms of plastic waste produced by country, Ourworldindata.org has plastic waste figures:

  • With the largest population, China produced the largest quantity of plastic, at nearly 60 million tonnes. This was followed by the United States at 38 million, Germany at 14.5 million and Brazil at 12 million tonnes.

 

Where Does Plastic End Up

Consider these three disposal methods for plastic, and where the plastic ends up:

  • Plastic adequately disposed of via waste management, but ending up in landfill – most of the plastic we dispose of isn’t recycled (most figures put that amount of plastic not recycled over the 90% mark). But, different countries and cities can have different shares of plastic going to landfill, incineration and recycling
  • Plastic littered, and ending up on land (in rivers, in the soil, on beaches etc) or in the ocean – the rate of littering is about 2% of a country’s plastic waste generation
  • Plastic Inadequately disposed of and ending up on land (in rivers, in the soil, on beaches etc), or in the ocean – low to middle income countries have much higher rates of plastic being inadequately disposed of i.e. leaking from rubbish dumping sites because landfills aren’t secure or closed off

 

Where Is Plastic Recycled

Mainly recycling facilities, but the complete plastic recycling process can extend out to several third parties who are responsible for sorting, discarding, purifying, forming or pelletizing, re-selling and reusing plastic recycled waste.

TheAtlantic.com outlines a piece of plastic we send to be recycled can enter ‘an elaborate global system within which its plastic is sold, shipped, melted, resold, and shipped again—sometimes zigzagging the globe’

Read more about the potential journey of a plastic bottle sent for recycling in the US at https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/12/what-actually-happens-to-a-recycled-plastic-bottle/418326/

 

Where To Recycle Plastic Bags

Plastic bags aren’t able to be recycled in most places.

But, some cities do offer plastic bag and ‘soft plastic’ recycling services. Do an online search for ‘soft plastics recycling in [insert city name’]

 

Where Is Plastic Pollution

It can happen on land, and in the oceans, mainly.

Plastic on land comes from a range of sources, and happens in a range of ways.

Ocean plastic pollution has it’s own unique causes to consider.

Also note, a more indirect form of plastic pollution might occur from the burning of plastic waste – where air pollution could occur (from dioxins and other air or atmosphere contaminants), and incinerator ash could cause pollution if not treated or recycled or disposed of properly.

 

Where Does Plastic In The Ocean Come From

Roughly 70-80% of plastic in the ocean in total comes from land based sources, and 20-30% comes from marine sources (fishing discards and fishing equipment/gear).

Plastic in the ocean mainly comes from coastal populations within 50kms of the coast line, and rivers are a major way that plastic gets carried from inland to these coastal locations.

 

Where Is Plastic In The Ocean

There’s four points to consider here (plastic could end up in all four of these locations):

  • Plastic congregates on the surface of the water at ocean basins and gyres
  • Plastic breaks up into micro plastics and nano plastics and sinks to the deep sea and deep sea sediments
  • Plastic breaks down and ends up in organisms and living things
  • Plastic breaks down and is washed up or buried in our shorelines

– ourworldindata.org

 

Where Is The Plastic Island

The plastic island people refer to is the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’.

You can view the parts of the ocean with the greatest masses of plastics in surface ocean waters by ocean basin at https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution

Go to the section ‘Which Oceans Have The Most Plastic Waste’

 

Where To Shop Plastic Free

It depends on the country and city you are in.

Some cities now have dedicated plastic free and zero waste stores, as well as bulk food stores that minimise plastic packaging (by using packaging such as compostable or reusable bags and containers, and tin ties, just as examples).

You can also cut down on plastic in your own shopping by re-using bags, and looking for products that includes less or no plastic packaging.

 

Sources

1. https://science.howstuffworks.com/plastic.htm

2. https://www.plasticseurope.org/en/about-plastics/what-are-plastics/how-plastics-are-made

3. https://www.sciencehistory.org/the-history-and-future-of-plastics

4. Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2019) – “Plastic Pollution”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution’ [Online Resource]

5. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/plastic-pollution-on-land-faq-guide/

6. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/plastic-in-the-ocean-faq-guide/

7. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/12/what-actually-happens-to-a-recycled-plastic-bottle/418326/

‘How Plastic …’ (FAQ Guide)

'How Plastic ...' (FAQ Guide)

This is a short FAQ guide answering some of the most common questions that include ‘How Plastic … X ‘

 

How Plastic Is Made

Different plastic types and plastic products are made in different ways and from slightly different chemicals and additives.

It’s worth doing a general search of ‘how plastic is made’, and a more specific search like ‘how pvc plastic is made’, or ‘how pvc plastic pipes are made’ – just as an example.

But, most plastics on the market today are made from a petrochemical feedstock.

There are some alternate types of plastics known as bioplastics made from renewable plant materials.

 

How Plastic Is Recycled

Plastic may be recycled in slightly different ways depending on the recycling facilities available in each city.

One city may have different recycling waste collection systems and recycling facility capabilities than another.

So, it’s worth researching how a particular local recycler is able to recycle plastics and what plastics they can recycle.

But, the general process of recycling might involve either mechanical or chemical recycling as the main recycling method, and the steps of:

  • Sorting of plastic (which may involve picking, and separation of plastic by certain variables)
  • Shredding, and sieving of plastic
  • Eliminating impurities from plastic, usually by melting
  • Extruding plastic into forms like pellets (which can be used for other products)

Read more about the general plastic recycling process at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plastic_recycling

 

How Plastic Affects The Environment & The Ocean

 

How Plastic Affects Humans Health

 

How Plastic Affects The Economy

 

How Plastic Affects Animals, Wild life & Marine Life

 

Sources

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plastic_recycling

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/impact-of-plastic-on-animals-marine-life/

3. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/impact-of-plastic-on-human-health/

4. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/environmental-impact-of-plastic-on-land-soil-the-ocean-freshwater-sources-the-air-atmosphere-natural-resources-more/

5. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/economic-impact-of-plastic/

‘What Plastic …’ (FAQ Guide)

'What Plastic ...' (FAQ Guide)

This is a short FAQ guide answering some of the most common questions that include ‘What Plastic … X ‘

 

What Plastic (& Plastic Numbers) Can Be Recycled?

Read this guide about the common plastics that are usually recycled.

 

What Is PET Plastic?

PET (or PETE), stands for Polyethylene Terephthalate, and comes under the Plastic #1 classification

It is usually clear, strong and hard plastic, and might be used commonly for soft drink bottles.

 

What Is Single Use Plastic?

As the name suggest, it’s generally plastic that is used one time (usually for a short period of time – might only be for seconds or minutes) and then disposed of.

An example is a plastic shopping bag that is used once and thrown away, or a food wrapper that is unwrapped and thrown out immediately.

 

What Is Biodegradable Plastic?

Plastic labelled as biodegradable plastic is usually a type of bioplastic, made partially with biodegradable material, such as plant based feedstock (as opposed to feedstock that comes from fossil fuels).

You do have to research each plastic labelled as biodegradable or compostable though, because they may still come with synthetic additives or chemicals, and may only biodegrade under certain conditions (which may not be available in a landfill or typically in the environmental for example).

 

What Is Plastic Pollution?

Generally refers to plastic debris that has been littered or escaped on the land, or into the ocean.

It may be categorised into macro plastic pollution (large bits of plastic), and micro and nano plastic pollution (microscopic plastic particles).

Plastic pollution can cause several problems for humans and wild life.

 

What Plastic Ends Up In The Ocean?

Both land based (70-80% of total), and marine based plastic (20-30% of total) ends up in the ocean.

Land based plastic may include plastic packaging waste and other types of plastic, and marine based plastic may include fishing equipment such as lines, nets, and so on.

Read more about potential solutions to ocean plastic pollution in this guide.

 

What Plastic Ends Up On Land?

Plastic on land comes from a range of sources.

One of the most common is micro plastics from the textiles and clothes we wear ending up in waste water and water supplies, but we also litter plastic that ends up on land and on beaches and coast lines.

 

What Is Plastic Made Of?

Fossil fuels such as refined oil and processed natural gas by products.

Different types of plastic may be made of different additives, plasticizers, resin, chemicals etc.

For example, PVC may be made of slightly different chemicals to PET/PETE.

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/the-different-types-of-plastic-how-many-there-are-what-they-are-most-commonly-produced-what-they-are-used-for-which-types-can-be-recycled-more/

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/what-plastics-can-cannot-be-recycled-how-to-find-out/

3. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/solutions-to-ocean-plastic-pollution-how-to-stop-reduce-it-how-to-clean-it-up/

4. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/plastic-pollution-causes-sources-effects-solutions/

5. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/solutions-to-ocean-plastic-pollution-how-to-stop-reduce-it-how-to-clean-it-up/

6. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/plastic-pollution-on-land-faq-guide/

7. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/potentially-harmful-effects-of-plastic-on-the-environment-wildlife-humans-health-the-economy/

Is A Plastic Free World Possible, Or Not?

Is A Plastic Free World Possible, Or Not?

This is a short guide that considers an answer to the question of whether a plastic free world is possible or not.

 

Firstly, Why Would People Want A Plastic Free World In The First Place?

Is a fair idea to think about.

Consider this guide that outlines the 21 potentially harmful effects of plastic (notice though how much uncertainty and conflict there can be around the actual impact that things like BPA, phthalates and micro-plastics might be having on us as humans – these sorts of issues probably need far more transparency and certainty around them with more definitive studies and reports).

There’s the potential negative impact of plastic on humans, wild life, the economy, the general environment, and more.

Not only is the use of plastic a potential concern in some ways, but the management of plastic waste and dealing with plastic pollution (including the break down of plastic into micro and nano plastic particles) can be too.

People read about this impact and these concerns, and may immediately start thinking why plastic exists in the first place.

Which brings us to the next part …

 

The Important Uses & Benefits Of Plastic In Society (& Our Current Reliance On It)

Along with the potential negative impacts plastic might have, plastic also serves many critical/important uses, and gives us many benefits in society. These guides outline those uses, benefits, and also the major industries that use plastic:

What we see is there there are major benefits to plastic such as preventing food waste, and preserving hygiene, safety and health standards. The food industry, medical industry and many other industries benefits from the use of plastic for different applications.

We also see that the plastic packaging and building and construction industries are among the highest users of plastic. Transport and delivery can be made much cheaper, along with having a lower environmental footprint in several ways with the use of plastic. Even using plastic bags over other materials of carrier bags like cotton, organic cotton, paper and composite materials can be beneficial environmentally according to some indicators.

There’s a very good chance that the home you live in and the building you work in utilise plastic for pipes, fixtures, and other building materials and even services.

 

So, Is A Plastic Free World Possible, Or Not?

Right now, definitely not.

And it’s unlikely we will be plastic free any time soon in the future too.

There’s simply too many critical functions that plastic helps us perform (because of it’s material properties, how many types of plastic and plastic products/items can be made, and how cheap and accessible it is), and there’s too many parts of society and industries that rely on it.

But, what we can do is focus on how we might better manage new, and existing plastics …

 

Managing New Plastics

Some ideas for managing new plastics might be:

  • Cut down on easily avoidable single use plastics, and plastics with a high waste rate (like plastic packaging) where possible. Buy less single use plastics, re-use plastic items as much as possible, and repurpose them as bin liners where possible (in the case of plastic bags)
  • Be smarter and have a more data driven approach with the way we dispose of and manage plastic waste – incineration may work better for some plastics, while recycling may be better for some. The high rates of plastic being sent to landfill right now need to be justified or changed. Plastic waste management is really something that needs localized solutions
  • Upgrade waste management collection and disposal facilities worldwide to reduce plastic pollution – especially in regions and countries with un secure and open landfill sites, and places where mismanaged plastic and river and ocean plastic pollution rates are high (low to middle income countries, China, and parts of Asia and South East Asia are identified by some sources as areas to focus on)
  • Identify plastics that have great benefit or present less of a perceived problem to society – such as plastic that performs critical functions (waste prevention, safety and hygiene, preserves health standards, reduces cost and environmental impact compared to alternative materials), or that has a multi-year or multi decade lifecycle (like construction plastics) – we may focus on reducing these plastics less in the short term than other plastics that present more problems than benefits
  • Put more time, money, research and development into the potential of changing the chemistry of plastics to address some of the leaching, degradation and other problems we may currently have with it

We discuss other potential solutions to plastic problems in this guide.

 

Managing Existing Plastics

Managing existing plastics may be difficult and costly. Some notes on that are:

  • Micro plastics and nano plastics that are already in land and ocean environments, in water supplies, and so on, are going to be essentially impossible to completely remove.
  • Removing plastic from the ocean is also quite expensive (because the re-sale value of plastic can be quite low compared to the cost to get the plastic out of the ocean)

To keep it simple in addressing a complex issue – we can pick up existing plastic from beaches and land via volunteer clean ups, and continue to remove plastic from the ocean basins and garbage patches with clean ups where there is funding.

It may also help to focus on reducing our individual litter footprints of some of the most commonly found littered plastic items.

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/ways-in-which-plastic-benefits-society-the-environment-the-economy/

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/potentially-harmful-effects-of-plastic-on-the-environment-wildlife-humans-health-the-economy/

3. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/what-is-plastic-used-for-in-society-sectors-that-use-the-most-plastic/

4. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/should-we-ban-plastic-bags-are-they-better-or-worse-than-other-types-of-bags/

5. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/solutions-to-plastic-problems-how-to-solve-plastic-pollution-how-to-manage-plastic-in-society-in-the-future/

6. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/best-way-to-dispose-of-plastic-recycle-landfill-or-burn-incinerate/

7. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/most-commonly-littered-items-in-society-land-rivers-beaches-oceans/

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