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Myth of Recycling

While we have learnt of the 3Rs : Reduce, Reuse and Recycle since the 20th century, the 3rd R, recycling, is  proven to be a disappointment today. Consumers are conditioned to believe that when they separate their recyclables and throw them out, that it’ll be properly taken care of. But that’s been exposed as a myth. Do a quick search online today and you will read numerous cases of our supposed “recycled” plastics ending up in some country’s backyard.

The filthy secrets of the multibillion-dollar global recycling industry were exposed in  2017, when China suddenly announced its intention to close its borders to 24 categories of recyclable waste, including several kinds of scrap plastic and mixed paper. The ban was enforced on Jan. 1, 2018, and its effects rippled around the globe.

In December 2018, Great Britain’s Royal Statistical Society, in partnership with the National Geographic Society, named the core fact that only about nine percent of all plastic ever made has likely been recycled post WWII.

One must first understand the complexities of recycling plastic, particularly post consumer plastic like used food containers and even paper packaging. It’s a difficult and labor-intensive process. The plastic disposable has to be thoroughly cleaned and be free from any food contamination before it can be considered fit for recycling. In reality, only a minority of such packaging gets cleaned and sorted this way for recycling. The rest are all dumped out of the country, meaning a gravy stained food box will end up in the incinerator like all others when it is being sorted out at the recycling plant.

The world is looking at 2 more Rs. Refuse and Renewables. Refuse a petroleum based plastic packaging if you can afford to or support products derived from renewables, such as biobased plastics, when you need to.