Of all the plastic we've ever produced, only 9% has been recycled. So what happened to all that plastic you've put in the recycling bin over the years?
It turns out that for decades the recyclability of plastics was grossly oversold by the plastics industry. The creation of this recycling "myth" is why, despite 30 years of being diligent recyclers, we have things like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Unfortunately, just placing your plastic into the recycling bin doesn't mean it will get recycled. The recycling system is complicated and often dictated by market demand. Not all plastic is recyclable. We cannot recycle plastic bags or straws for example.
Essentially, there are two types of plastics – thermoplastics and thermosets. While thermoplastics can be re-melted and re-molded, thermosets contain cross-linked polymers that cannot be separated meaning they cannot be recycled. Even thermoplastics have a limit to the amount of times we can recycle them, as each time they are recycled they downgrade in quality. Even when plastics are recyclable, it is often more costly than simply making new plastics. In addition to recycling, we also need to find ways to reduce our use of virgin petroleum-based plastics.
Bioplastic is one such product that has been getting a lot of hype over the last few years - from sugar cane, mycelium, seaweed and many others.
While all these alternatives are great, the main cause of our plastic dilemma is not scientific or technological, but economic. As long as it remains cheaper to create new plastics from fossil fuels rather than from bioplastics or from recycling, we're going to be stuck with plastic garbage islands floating in our oceans.
The true cost to our health and our environment has yet to be included in the equation. But once it is, maybe that is when the real shift will happen. (source: ecowatch.com)
Avoid the use of plastics, particularly single use.
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