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No Time To Waste!

By: Sophia W.


“What exactly is plastic?'' you may ask. Well, plastic is light, easy to store and transport, comes in an endless variety of textures and shapes, and can hold almost any item. They are also made up of complex chemical compounds that make it more difficult to recycle than simpler materials like glass, aluminum, or paper.


In order for plastic to be recycled, it must be collected, sorted by exact type, kept clean, processed, and delivered to a manufacturer that has the intention and capacity to use the material to make a new product. Despite the promotion of recycling, it is evident that plastic production has outpaced recycling many, many times in the past decade. For example, since China does not accept the United States' recycling anymore, many American recycling programs have been halted.


Photo from: BioEnergy Consult


Additionally, several people are unaware that all plastic products are imprinted with a resin code- a chasing arrows recycling triangular symbol with a number in the middle. Oftentimes this code can be misleading since people automatically think the product is recyclable, when in reality the general purpose of the resin codes are for the plastics industry to indicate the type of chemical compound used to make the product. Even though resin codes with numbers 1 and 2 are recyclable, 3-7 are not. Some examples of plastic with resin codes 1-2 are soda and water bottles, milk and juice jugs, shampoo bottles, laundry detergent, metal lids, and yogurt tubs. Plastics that are not recyclable are plastic bags, chip bags, plastic straws, and coffee pods. To put into perspective, out of the 8.3 billion metric tons of waste, 6.3 billion metric tons have become plastic waste. In other words, the majority of recyclable plastic is not ending up in the proper recycling facilities.


Photo from: Vector Stock


To combat the plastic recycling dilemma, several U.S. states are providing an incentive for consumers to recycle their plastic bottles via a ‘bottle bill’. This bill is important because it reduces contamination challenges by requiring consumers to sort and rinse containers before sending them off to recycling facilities. In Michigan, residents are required to pay a deposit on plastic bottles and can return the bottle for the deposit once it is empty. This way, 97% of plastic bottles find their way to the correct recycling program. In contrast, Minnesota does not have a ‘bottle bill and as a result only 20% of all plastic water bottles are recycled.


Moreover, the best way to alleviate plastic pollution is to limit usage of disposable plastics. Some sustainable solutions include: choosing reusable water bottles, reusable tote bags and produce bags, cutting out the use of straws and disposable utensils and buying in bulk. When recyclable plastics are thrown away, they go to landfills that either incinerate or bury them- both these methods produce harmful chemicals into our air and water. To avoid excess plastic disposal, make sure to read the labels, do not recycle anything smaller than a credit card (small objects are hard to sort and jam up equipment), and make sure the product is clean, empty and dry.


Discussion Questions:

  • In your opinion, do you think your hometown is doing a good job recycling? Why or why not?

  • What should schools teach students about recycling?


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