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Business Unusual

An inconvenient truth - plastic recycling does not actually work

30 September 2020 7:29 PM

Most plastic was never intended to be recycled, but we have believed the story for decades

If you like me have been dutifully separating your paper, glass, tins and plastic then this might not make for good reading.

The good news is that some plastics, certainly the type we do use a lot can be recycled even if for only a few times, but there is no escaping that the famous line - reduce, reuse, recycle - will need us to shift focus from the last term to the first.

There are three parts that have exposed the reality of the situation, the first was the change in policy by China in 2018 to stop accepting plastic waste and the second was the work of NPR’s Laura Sullivan who discovered that the original recycling campaigns that spread around the globe were really just a distraction to keep us from reducing how much plastic we were prepared to use.

The final part does not relate to recycling but rather the steady decline in our use of oil for fuel which will reduce the price of oil and so make making new plastic much cheaper than recycling it.

Take a listen to the excellent report by Planet Money that dug into the origins of the recycling campaign and whether this time anything might actually change.

From the report it seems unlikely.

Then there is this report from Drilled, called Big Oils bet on Plastic, that looked at where the oil industry is planning to get its new growth from, it does not look to be fuel which means there will be a push to increase plastic use and production which will make things harder for those wanting to make recycling economical.

Some hope for the future

Business Unusual has had a look at this subject before focusing on the issue of not being able to repair the things we buy, we need to make the products we use last longer.

There was a look at a remarkable bee species that may allow for a biodegradable cling wrap. Then there is the option for using fungus for biogradable packaging.

Even if we work hard it will take a long time to recover from over half a century of heavy plastic use so now the question is not can something be done, but how willing we are to do something about it.

30 September 2020 7:29 PM

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