Greenpeace Accuses Industry of Creating “Recycling Myth”
IT’S NOW A THING: In April, California Attorney accused Exxon Mobil of deceiving the public, perpetuating the ‘myth’ of plastics recycling. The United Nations is trying to create a “Global Plastics Treaty” that will likely not help anyone by international bureaucrats.
Greenpeace has found a new way to attack capitalism and popular industries. The environmental activist organization now claims that businesses have crafted a “recycling myth,” as it turns out the most cost-and-energy efficient options are using virgin plastics.
For decades, recycling has been championed by businesses and environmental groups alike as a critical way to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills and the oceans.
When it comes to plastics, however, the common belief that items in the recycling bin will end up being repurposed down the line is rarely borne out. Only about 5% of the 51 million tons of plastic waste produced by American households in 2021 was recycled domestically, according to a new study conducted by the environmental nonprofit Greenpeace. The rest is sent to landfills, incinerated or shipped overseas, where its ultimate fate can be hard to track.
Greenpeace’s findings are consistent with a wide range of research that has led many experts to argue that the environmental promise of plastic recycling, which has been promoted by plastic-producing companies for years, is essentially “a myth.”.
Compared to materials like metal, paper and glass, plastics are much more complicated and less economical to recycle. They come in a wide variety of chemical compositions — some that can’t be processed at most recycling facilities and others that can’t be recycled at all. But even when recyclable plastics make their way to places that have the capacity to repurpose them, those items often still end up in landfills. That’s because it’s frequently cheaper for companies to create new plastic than it is to recycle old plastic.
There are five reasons that recycling isn’t the grand solution to pollution, as touted by green justice advocates. Their fantasies are not based on any form of science (especially chemistry and economics) or reality.
First, plastic waste is generated in vast quantities and is extremely difficult to collect— as becomes clear during what the report called ineffective “volunteer cleanup stunts” funded by nonprofits such as “Keep America Beautiful.”
Second, even if it were all collected, mixed plastic waste cannot be recycled together, and it would be “functionally impossible to sort the trillions of pieces of consumer plastic waste produced each year,” the report said.
Third, the recycling process itself is environmentally harmful, exposing workers to toxic chemicals and itself generating microplastics.
Fourth, recycled plastic carries toxicity risks through contamination with other plastic types in collection bins, preventing it from becoming food-grade material again.
Fifth and finally, the process of recycling is prohibitively expensive.
“New plastic directly competes with recycled plastic, and it’s far cheaper to produce and of higher quality,” said the report.
This narrative has real fans in California, especially as it is being used to target the fossil fuel industry. In April, the state’s attorney general announced a first-of-its-kind investigation into petrochemical industries for their alleged role in plastic waste pollution.
Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta said Thursday that his office has subpoenaed Exxon Mobil Corp. seeking information related to the company’s “historic and ongoing efforts” to minimize the public’s understanding of the harmful consequences of plastic.
“For more than half a century, the plastics industry has engaged in an aggressive campaign to deceive the public, perpetuating a myth that recycling can solve the plastics crisis,” Bonta said.
Exxon Mobil rejected the assertions.
Exxon spokeswoman Julie King said the company rejects the attorney general’s allegations. She said Exxon shares society’s concerns about plastic waste and is working on recycling and other waste management technologies.
“We are focused on solutions and meritless allegations like these distract from the important collaborative work that is under way to enhance waste management and improve circularity,” Ms. King said.
This attempt to smear industries over the realities of the recycling process is simply another way for green justice activists to drum up more money, and the lawyers support them to get paid. It will also hinder meaningful research from exploring feasible ways to address this issue. Like climate alarmism, it isn’t founded on any science except political ones.
It also allows the United Nations power over this country in the form of a “Global Plastics Treaty” that the organization hopes to create as an international legally binding agreement to “end plastic pollution” by the end of 2024.
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Sorting the recycling myths:
1. Idustrialists find it difficult to recycle plastics.
2. Democrats find it easy to recycle lies.
Another myth: listen to idiots like Gretta Thorndumb and wind up more stupid.
It is not a myth. Democrats really do find it easy to recycle lies.
One word… Handguns… Disposable handguns…
(Maybe someone will get the reference).
Who the hell cares if recycled plastics can never be made “food grade?”
We don’t recycle tires into tires, we recycle them into paving.
We don’t recycle milk bottles into milk bottles, we recycle them into decking, park benches, and other weatherproof construction materials.
If there are failures of recycling, they should be laid at the feet of governments.
Yep. There are uses for recycled plastic, maybe not all of it but certainly some substantial amount. Industry will find a way to make it profitable if they can get the govt boot off their neck.
The FED could recycle plastic into credit cards to give us more money.
Even better: casino chips.
Plastic Monopoly money, i.e. “Biden Bucks?”
Yep, it’s called downcycling.
Also, if the plastic is a homopolymer lacking a great deal of blending, it can easily be melted down to the original resin pellets and used again to create other plastic products.
Perhaps, the trick is getting chemical engineers to try and formulate more reusable products that can be melted down and reused. Most of them are like obsessed chefs that overseason their food (in this case, plastic formulations). Sometimes, additives are used with little function just to be able to patent a formula.
Truthfully, with climate change aside, plastic waste is a huge problem worthy of curbing. The answer is not to stop using plastic. It’s to starting using science to modify and purify the waste stream.
If we stopped buying stuff from China we could cut our plastic disposal problem in half.
I’m not an eco-nut but people really need to look at their own plastic waste production. Politics aside, we really do generate far too much garbage. And it is largely unnecessary. We all like to complain about the quality of modern food but we still mostly buy packaged, processed food. In a large, consumer-based throw-away economy like ours, it’s scandalous. Lots of the things we throw away would be considered necessary items in lesser economies. I can’t believe the quality of some of the bottles we throw away, e.g.
Plastic finds its way into everything we eat and breath. “Forever” toxic particles and chemicals are found in everything we consume and builds up in our bodies. Just think about how much of our waste is accounted for by soda and bottled water. It’s insane. Soda is the biggest cause of obesity in this country. And we import “pure spring” water in plastic bottles? Why do we do that to ourselves?
For health reasons alone, I try to eat fresh food, as local as possible (good luck around here), in as minimally shrink-wrapped packaging is possible. My biggest contribution to garbage is paper and cardboard and I don’t know what to do about that unless I just stopped buying things altogether.
Phil, you are in error about plastics always being a waste. Judicious use reduces food spoilage, improves the ability to make use of leftovers, is a better choice for carrying purchases in snow, ice, and rain, and provides a durable product that can easily be reused multiple times.
In my house, we reuse the grocery bags for household waste, carrying lunches to school or work, and as emergency rain hats.
They also provide a readily available container for pet waste.
Just last month I ordered some new brake pads for my bike from Amazon. Supply chain issues, I suppose, meant that I ended up getting them from Amazon UK. They are Shimano brand, identical to the prior pads I bought in the US. But the UK sourced pads came in a small thin cardboard box, just big enough to hold the product. All the previous pads I’ve bought came in those 2-layer sealed-together-impossible-to-open clear plastic packages designed to take up as much space as possible hanging from a display, probably 5 times the size of the actual product. I wonder if this plastic packaging is a US thing? I’m not any sort of environmentalist, but I abhor waste. So much plastic packaging seems to serve no useful purpose.
The Schwinn brake pads that I just bought came fastened to a cardboard card by two plastic tie-wraps. It’s the minimum packaging to hang on a hook in the store and hold some text and the price sticker.
130 years ago in my great-great-grandfather’s general store, (if bike brake pads even existed) the packaging would have been even less, maybe a short piece of twine to hold the pair of pads together, or maybe just two dozen jumbled together in one box without anything holding a pair together. But the pads would have been on a shelf somewhere in the back room, requiring a store clerk to find them and bring out a pair for the customer to look at and decide if they were the right part. That added labor is much, much more wasteful than any reasonable packaging.
As an organic compound, plastics burn.
Maybe we could burn it to replace the natural gas, coal and oil the lefties, including GreenPOS, are making scarce.
Plastics are so filled with junk additives that they don’t burn very cleanly. Some additives for household use (like PVC) have chloride in them to retard flammability.
They also don’t produce a great deal of output (think like ethanol). The energy required to get the combustion reaction going is relatively high compared to the output. That’s why we use gases full of octane (8 carbon chains) for vehicles. Plastics are basically a pile of ethylenes (double bonded 2 carbon chains). The longer the chain, the better the output.
China used to do this and stopped doing so because the gain is not worth the pollution. We’re talking about a country that doesn’t really care if it poisons its own population, so if they stop the practice, it tells you something about its (lack of) utility.
Then compact it and build the southern border wall!!
Plastic waste from Washington state was going to China, but a few years ago the Chinese stopped accepting the shipments because the plastic being sent was too dirty (likely too much food waste) and too mixed (different plastic types) for them to economically recycle it.
We still separate our recyclables, but I’m not sure that any of it is actually being recycle. I never read anywhere that the state found a replacement for the Chinese.
IF the recycling is not “too dirty” because sociopaths and idiots put food waste and dog poo in it, landfills of it could be considerably simpler than landfills for garbage. But because sociopaths and idiots run free in our society (when not running for election!), they have to treat it pretty much the same as garbage.
Eh, California politicians ban lightweight plastic grocery bags but locally the city provides free plastic dog poop bags via dispensers at our very large city park. Dog poo is highly valued here in relation to fruits and vegetables.
So here is what happens. The dog walkers pick up the dog poo and toss the loaded bags in the bushes along the side of foot paths or at the base of utility poles. And then later someone has to collect those bags loaded with fermented poo. It was 100 degrees for all of August. Which tends to promote fermentation-rot.
“the science is settled”
They should ship the dog poo to Martha’s Vineyard.
Sounds like it’s worth going to the dog park and stealing the plastic bags to use at the grocery store. You’d solve two problems at once.
Dog poop bags are only about the size of a box of tissues. 😢 You could buy nuts or grapes, but no turkey for you.
Are the human street defecators required to use poop bags?
Recycling plastic results in short polymer chains that aren’t suitable for fiber. Grind it, hot press the chips with a solvent added as a binder and make huts for the impoverished worldwide.
This isn’t new. Penn and Teller did a whole show on this ALL THE WAY BACK IN 2004. Almost all types of recycling is FAR WORSE than dumping it in a landfill from every perspective. The amount of energy and process needed to recycle almost all things is WORSE from energy, cost, and pollution, than simply disposing of it in a proper landfill.
The sole exception was Aluminum – which was cost efficient and better on the environment than dumping it.
Yep. My ecology professor had about a day devoted to recycling and when it is beneficial or not. His conclusion was that very little, other than metals would be productively recycled. That was in the summer of 2003.
Glass and paper
I dunno. There are a few products with no analogs that really stand out. Trex and Trex-like recycled plastic “lumber” is absolutely aces for decks, lawn edging, and small project work. Not inexpensive at all, but the stuff lasts practically forever, works way smoother than wood, and needs zero maintenance, painting, etc.
I claim no expertise in it whatsoever. I haven’t read enough on my own to know any of the details.
That decking stuff is pretty great, though. I do know that.
Sorry to disappoint you on this, but Trex uses virgin low-denisity polyethylene (LLDPE) as the binder for the sawdust in their product. Recycled PE would have too much variation in melting properties to be suitable for their production lines.
However, recycled PE can be used in fairly high concentrations in other types of artificial wood (those without the sawdust), such as the tyoe used to make planking for park benches.
How about every Congressional District retain it’s own garbage and put it into a landfill within the boundaries of that CD? Sure some urban CD may need to figure it out but sending their garbage to other CD isn’t very friendly nor environmentally sound for the locations used to dump.
That’s not a very Democrat-friendly proposal.
I once lived just outside the beltway in Virginia, and a few miles beyond me was Lorton Prison.
Lorton wasn’t even a Virginia prison, it was DC’s!
DC couldn’t even find space for its own criminals.
Forgive me for being stupid but I don’t understand the argument here. Even after reading this post more than once and the links.
The reality is that plastic is not being recycled, correct? What is the myth?
They claim that the creation and popularization of the myth of plastics recycling is causing harm. That’s the best I have.
The myth is that plastics can be largely recycled, and at less cost in dollars and to the environment. This discourages the production and use of virgin plastic, resulting in more plastic waste (most of which can’t be or isn’t recycled). Without the myth, there’d be more support to simply reduce the amount of plastics produced and injected into the waste stream. This would damage the bottom line of the producers of virgin plastics, so plastic manufacturers encourage the myth.
OK, I get it now. Dave, thanks
Leftist idiots are the ones who force people at gunpoint to separate their garbage into 37 different bins so that they can pretend the stuff is going to be recycled.
it has LONG been known that almost nothing that goes into the recycle bins ever ends up being recycled. It has LONG been known that recyclables sent overseas just end up being burned for fuel.
But leftists have had to show everyone how much more they care about the Earth and how much better they are as people than the rest of us by forcing stupid, expensive, asinine recycling laws down our throats.
Yep. The liberal corporate boardrooms took on the cause of recycling both as a feel-good gesture, and a marketing scheme to push product sales, which worked all too well, and now the Greenies are horrified that we have convinced the masses its ok to use single use plastic applications because we are just going to recycle it anyway.
Burn it to generate electricity for those non-zero carbon EVs.
“When it comes to plastics, however, the common belief that items in the recycling bin will end up being repurposed down the line is rarely borne out. ”
It was only a common belief of people who refuse to pay attention. I have been telling people this for 20 years. Here is how to tell if something is being recycled effectively. They pay you for it. If they force you to do it and make you pay extra then if you are lucky it is going into the landfill with the rest of the trash.