Get Real: The True Recycling of Plastic

It is quite astounding that the United States, which makes up 5% of the world’s population, produces 30% of the world’s garbage and therefore clogs her landfills with well over a third of a trillion pounds of trash per year. There have been many attempts to reduce the large amount of waste congesting the earth’s ecosystem over the centuries. Two major contributors to this detritus are recyclable objects that people have discarded and non-recyclable trash which eco-conscious individuals have no choice but to dispose of. If you were to enter a landfill, you would find that over 10% of the trash consisted of plastic. Much of the plastics, such as yogurt cups, could not be melted down to be recycled and remade into something for which there was demand. Additionally, many products that are made of normally recyclable high density polyethylene have different solvents, plasticizers, and dyes merged with the plastic to facilitate molding, strength, etc. Therefore, these plastics cannot be melted together to be recycled as they would become stringy, release noxious fumes, or the like. Finally, some plastics cannot be recycled because there are too few of their kind for the recycling plants to economically winnow, hold and then sell. A workable solution to this problem would be that only recyclable materials that could be reconstructed into profitable products would be allowed to carry the recyclable marque.

Among the problems with recycling is the fact that many plastic products which cannot be recycled have the chasing-arrows marque stamped on their bases. The plastics companies claim that they never intended the symbol to mean that a product was “recyclable.” Even if their mistake is inadvertent, they are deceiving the public into buying non-recyclable products. In most communities, only numbers one and two plastic will be accepted at the curb because only these plastics have a post consumer market. So the fact is that numbers three, four, five, six and seven, which as of now have no post consumer use, will end up in landfills.

To alleviate this problem, the government should regulate plastic labeling so that only truly recyclable plastics can bear the logo. Currently only numbers one and two plastics that have no inappropriate additives would be permitted to do this. Furthermore, the recycling marque should be prominently displayed on the front label to facilitate consumers’ shopping. Public service announcements could encourage consumers to buy plastics so labeled. To increase packaging options, engineers will be spurred to devise ingenious new plastics as well as uses for previously non-recyclable plastics just as George Washington Carver was spurred to find uses for peanuts. Historically this has been shown to be an effective means of fulfilling public needs.

When consumers were educated about the detrimental effects of trans fats on their bodies, some began to buy only those products which did not contain the harmful lipid. Finding it cumbersome to read the ingredients of each good they bought, these consumers protested that trans fat content should be part of the nutrition facts label. The FDA granted their wish. Since companies are now forced to display trans fat content on their nutrition labels, most businesses have eliminated the substance for fear that their brands will lose sales. Similarly, if companies are only allowed to place the conspicuous recyclable label on truly recyclable goods, there will be more revenue gained from those products and fewer companies will retain the use of non-recyclable plastics. Additionally, as engineers attempt to find new plastics and uses for plastics that previously could not be recycled, desirable products that reduce waste can be introduced to society. Not only would they benefit mankind but also the ecosystem.

Although companies are largely responsible for producing non-recyclable plastics, the public contributes to the problem by not recycling the plastics that are recyclable. Only 76% of Americans participate in recycling at all. Three out of four plastic bottles are never recycled. Many do not realize the multifarious uses for recycled plastics such as benches, bottles, textiles, flower pots and car bumpers. It seems that reasons of effort, time, the small extra cost, and simple apathy toward preserving our resources and environment are the cause for the lack of recycling. Either governmental prodding or even fines may be needed to spur Americans to recycle their used plastic. If truly recyclable plastics bore the “green logo,” there would be no need to sort plastics. This would take most of the effort from their duty. Considering that it takes just a few minutes to put a recycling bin on the curb, the problem with time is minor. The cost of paying a little more for a “green” product is minimal compared to the enormous cost of cleaning up the environment. Sadly, the last problem, apathy, is a hard disease to cure, and the recalcitrant may only be forced to obey the government with fines.

As the world has industrialized, many life-changing benefits have been reaped by society. Producing essential technologies, life-saving medicines, and better living conditions for all mankind have been a few of its blessings. Unfortunately this revolution has been society’s bane as well. Industrialism has produced cars along with destructive greenhouse gases, computers along with toxic waste in landfills, and finally the amazingly versatile plastics, which are non-biodegradable and add to landfill problems. Ultimately, if government, businesses and consumers work together, the true recycling of all plastics with the recycling insignia can be accomplished.





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