The Recycling Illusion
For decades the plastics industry has promoted the myth of recycling. We have been lulled into believing that the plastics we toss into the blue bins are magically recycled into new materials.
In fact, only plastics with industry numbers 1 and 2 have any chance of being recycled and most of those products end up in landfills or the ocean. For all practical purposes, plastic does not break down in the environment. Plastic will degrade into smaller and smaller pieces but is with us forever.
The plastics industry has a very powerful political lobby and has avoided responsibility for the “externalities” of their products; the environmental impact is passed on to the public. The good news is, this is beginning to change as a result of public pressure.
So what can we do as individual consumers?
- Purchase responsibly; assume that everything you buy containing plastic cannot be recycled and will end up in a landfill. This means avoiding single-use plastics altogether and repurposing other plastic purchases. You buy it, you own it.
- Put pressure on plastic manufacturers to take responsibility for the external environmental costs of their products. Encourage alternatives to traditional plastics but be on the lookout for “greenwashing“.
- Act locally: When you are in a local establishment that offers you single-use plastics, hand them back, tell them why, and encourage them to change their practices.
- Encourage your politicians to support legislation eliminating single-use containers. California lawmakers recently tabled Senate Bill 54 and Assembly Bill 1080 under pressure from the plastics lobby. Fortunately, the bills are still alive for the next session. When politicians are more concerned about the actions of their constituents than pressure from lobbyists, we will begin to see real change.