Study Shows Recycling or Incinerating Plastic Isn’t a Cure-All for the Environment

Plastic is everywhere. Your smartphone, car, takeout containers, bottled water and cosmetic containers – all contain plastic. It would be an impossible task to list every piece of plastic that you touch on a daily basis.

From the 1950s to today, 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic have been produced. Since plastic doesn’t breakdown naturally, it ends up in landfills, floating in the ocean, drifting down the street or overflowing in garbage cans across the U.S.

A new study published in Science Advances examines just how big of a problem plastic pollution will become in the future.

Recycling plastic just delays its disposal
Since some plastics are recyclable, Americans tend to underestimate how severe plastic pollution is.

The new study shows just 9% of plastic is recycled. Even when Americans toss their empty laundry detergent bottle or milk jug into a recycling bin, it’s only delaying its final disposal, say the authors.

When recycled milk jugs are used to make a new car bumper, for example, the bumper has to be disposed of at some point. The plastic was reused, but it only prolonged its trip to a landfill.

By recycling plastics, the amount of new plastic being produced is supposed to decrease. However, the study points out that no one really knows if recycled plastics are curbing new production.

The takeaway: recycling plastic isn’t a cure-all.

Incineration isn’t a solution either
An estimated 12 billion metric tons of plastic will accumulate in landfills and waterways by 2050, according to the study.

Plastic packaging is the biggest problem, which accounted for 54% of nonfiber plastic production in 2015. It’s the plastic that consumers don’t think about when they tear off the plastic film around a new DVD or open the plastic wrap that keeps a case of disposable water bottles together.

The only way to truly get rid of plastic is to burn it. But it’s not common practice in the U.S.  Of the 6.3 metric tons of plastics that’s been thrown out since 1950, just 12% of it was incinerated.

Why so little? Incineration plants are expensive to build and can omit toxic chemicals during the burning process.

The takeaway: burning plastics isn’t the cure-all either.

An alternative solution
Recycling or incinerating plastic isn’t going to eliminate the pollution problem. To keep plastic waste out of landfills and the ocean, every consumer has to make a commitment to use less plastic.

There’s a simple way everyone can consume less plastic: refill technology. Consumers can refill bottles of their favorite products rather than buy single-use bottles.

Consumers bring in a refillable bottle, set it inside a refill station, and the machine does the rest. It knows what product to refill and how much.

Consumers can refill anything from shampoo to motor oil at these refill stations and stop buying plastic containers again and again.

Why haven’t you seen these refill stations at your local retailer? Retailers don’t think shoppers will use them and need consumers like you to say otherwise. Sign the petition below to tell retailers that you’re ready to refill bottles to help find a real solution to the plastic waste crisis.