I have mostly soured on recycling in the past few years for obvious reasons but when you get down to it, most of the problem is plastic. Almost everything else can be recycled to a reasonable degree if we establish re-use markets, but not plastic. Why? Because it’s not one thing, it’s a million incompatible things.

That’s made clear in an excellent article in the current edition of Atlantic magazine titled “Plastic Recycling Doesn’t Work and Will Never Work” (whole article is here):

For example, polyethylene terephthalate (PET#1) bottles cannot be recycled with PET#1 clamshells, which are a different PET#1 material, and green PET#1 bottles cannot be recycled with clear PET#1 bottles (which is why South Korea has outlawed colored PET#1 bottles.) High-density polyethylene (HDPE#2), polyvinyl chloride (PVC#3), low-density polyethylene (LDPE#4), polypropylene (PP#5), and polystyrene (PS#6) all must be separated for recycling.

Just one fast-food meal can involve many different types of single-use plastic, including PET#1, HDPE#2, LDPE#4, PP#5, and PS#6 cups, lids, clamshells, trays, bags, and cutlery, which cannot be recycled together. This is one of several reasons why plastic fast-food service items cannot be legitimately claimed as recyclable in the U.S.

Those recycling triangles made of arrows are very, very misleading, which is why California has banned them unless the product “is of a material type and form that routinely becomes feedstock used in the production of new products or packaging.” In other words, you can’t say the product is recyclable just because it theoretically could be recycled in some utopian world – it has to actually BE recycled after I toss it into the blue bin rather than the trash can. Virtually no plastic meets that criteria.

Petroleum and chemical companies are touting “chemical recycling” that they say can turn plastics back into virgin plastic, but the history of recycling does not make me hopeful.

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