Recycling is associated with words like sustainability and eco-friendly. However, recycling is more than what meets the eye. It can be greenwashing, waste, and toxic. Recycling has been marketed in our society as a solution to our consumer spending. It has become a way to reap the benefits and conveniences of plastic without changing our lifestyle choices.

Many companies market recycling as a solution to our plastic waste problem, but they leave out two valuable solutions: reducing and reusing. Why? If consumers start to reduce and reuse, companies could see a reduction in their bottom line. So, they have prioritized the recycling fantasy. Our society has switched from refills & repairs to replacement, where companies can increase their supply and demand and where consumers could continue to buy new products with the option of recycling.

Our current plastic recyling system is flawed. Plastics are made of multiple mixes of toxic chemicals and oils, including petroleum, crude oil, and phthalates. According to National Geographic, a piece of plastic can only be recycled about 2-3 times before the quality decreases, and can no longer be recycled. Even when plastic is recycled, new plastic needs to be added into the mix to create durable and usable plastic. So, many companies opt to make new plastics instead of recycling because these new plastics are cheaper and of higher quality to make from scratch, giving companies an incentive to make more plastic waste.


A piece of plastic can only be recycled
about 2-3 times before the quality
decreases and it can no longer be used

Instead of using more sustainable materials, companies are using cheap, low-grade plastics in their production. The United States used have China handle the problem of recycling by exporting billions of pounds of plastics, recyclables, and trash for China to sort through. But in 2017, China created a policy that banned low-grade or contaminated materials from being imported into the country. So, the U.S. no longer has a system to sort and effectively get rid of recyclables leaving plastics piling up in trash heeps.

The majority of recyle bin plastics that households toss out are contaminated, ending up in landfills or oceans. Contaminated plastics are plastics that are mixed in together with non-recyclable plastics or plastics that have food remnants and grease on them.

Plastic use has doubled from 17 million tons in 1990 to 35 million tons today. And now, millions of plastics will end up in our oceans and environment. A full 32% of the 78 million tons of plastic packaging produced annually is left to flow into our oceans, the equivalent of pouring one garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute.

Recycling is not a solution. It is just a temporary band-aid to the problem.


we are pouring one garbage truck
of plastic into the ocean every minute


Potential Solutions 

1. Reducing & Reusing

We need to think beyond plastic recycling. As consumers, we must prioritize reducing and reusing to decrease the harmful plastics polluted into our oceans. By changing our lifestyle and choices, we could make progressive steps towards a less wasteful world. 

2. Encourage a Plastic Tax

Taxing is a powerful tool that we could use to our benefit. For example with smoking, there is a 4 percent drop in cigarette purchases for every 10 percent price increase when a tobacco tax was placed. In Sweden, a carbon tax was put in place in 1991 to reduce energy consumption, improve energy efficiency, and increase renewable energy alternatives. Between 1991 and 2018, Sweden decreased its greenhouse gas emissions by 27 percent. The United States can use these tax policies as a way to combat climate change. For example, companies and consumers could be taxed on single-use plastics. This plastic taxation could make it an incentive to produce and buy high-quality materials versus single-use plastics. 

3. Recycling Correctly

If you do recycle, make sure to properly recycle your items. Here are a few tips to recycling: 

– Recycle clean bottles, cans, and flattened cardboards. Make sure there are no food, liquids, contaminants in the recyclables 

– Do not recycle plastic bags, straws, plastic cups, and plastic dish ware 

– Plastics labeled #1-2 are definitely recyclable

Other plastics #3-#7 should be cross referenced with your recycling hauler to confirm if they accept those plastics.

– When in doubt, throw it out. If you wishcycle (wishing that items are recyclable when they are not), the number of contaminants in the recycling bins will increase. With too many contaminants in the recycle bins, both the recyclable and the contaminated materials will be thrown in landfills.

Wonderful links to reference to:

4. Demand companies use recycled materials  

5. Encourage Producer Responsibility, support businesses like Certified B Corporations that are doing the work of moving to a more circular product.