Is Recycling Really Better For The Environment? Part 2: Plastics

This is part 2 of our “Is Recycling Really Better For The Environment” series and today we are going to talk about recycling Plastics.

Plastic molding is one of the most commonly used processes in product production. As a former industrial designer, I know plastics pretty well and because of the availability, cost and price per unit, plastics have dominated the product and packaging world. Unfortunately, plastics are terrible for the environment and recycling, although better than tossing in the garbage, does very little as applied to the plastic industry.

Unlike paper recycling, plastic recycling does not increase source reduction, in fact studies show that plastic use and plastic trash increases in areas that push plastic recycling. This is a little counter intuitive I know, but if you think abut it, the reason for the increase is because of the increased positive perception of plastics as “eco friendly” because of the recycling programs. The danger of this type of thinking is that people buy and use more plastics, thinking that plastic is eco friendly because it can be recycled.

The simple fact is that most of the plastic that is placed in your recycling bin is used to make secondary products that are not recyclable, like plastic lumber, textiles and containers. Even though this is better than going to the landfill right away, it still does very little to reduce the need for virgin plastics, and the fact that the secondary products are not recyclable, the plastics end up in the landfills anyway, but just at a later time.

Unfortunately the virgin plastic manufacturers know all of this and realize that the increase in positive perception of plastics through public service ads focused on plastic recycling increases plastic sales. This why the majority of all plastic recycling advertisements are bought and paid for by the virgin plastic manufacturers. Not only that, but plastic producers use the recycling logo (chasing arrows in a triangle) on every plastic item that is made, but the logo does not mean anything, the only important thing about that logo is the number in the middle which classifies the type of resin used in that item. The district attorney in several different states are actually going after the plastic manufacturers for this false advertising and are trying to pass legislation to have the logo removed from non recycled plastic items.

With all f this being said, I still believe that it is better to throw that plastic item in the recycle bin rather than the trash bin, however the main point of this article is to let you know the truth about plastics. The only way to truly help the environment where plastics are concerned is source reduction and the only way to to that is to be a environmentally conscious consumer. Here are a few things you can do to reduce your plastic usage:
Do not buy items packaged in plastic. Instead buy items packaged in cardboard or paper.
Only buy food items that are in glass containers. Instead of buying squeeze bottles of mayonnaise, mustard and ketchup, but the glass containers.
Do not buy bottled water. Instead, invest in a good water filter, the result will be cleaner water and a better environment.
Reuse plastic containers. Plastic containers can be reused over 20 times before they need to be tossed in the recycling bin.
Use eco tableware for parties instead of plastic tableware.

Most of all, educate others about the woes of plastic usage and what they can do to help the environment. If you would like to learn more about plastics and plastic recycling, have a look at the Ecology Center’s “Plastic Task Force.”

Now checkout Part 3: Aluminum.

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