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Why Are We Not Recycling Plastic?!

Of 69.1 million tons of materials recycled in the United States (2018), 3.09 tons of that was plastic. Even though 35.7 million tons of plastic was produced that year alone in the U.S., only that 3.09 tons was recycled. That means 91% of all plastic ended up in a landfill or our environment. Plastic is EVERYWHERE in our daily lives. So why is it so infrequently recycled? 1. It can’t be recycled. I hate to say it but a lot of plastic just simply can’t be recycled. Unlike aluminum and glass which can continually to be recycled, plastic can only be recycled once, maybe twice. Why? It comes down to its chemistry. Every time we recycle an item its structure degrades as does the quality of the plastic. For example, you may throw a plastic water bottle in the recycling bin and it can then become a flimsy plastic bag. But when you recycle the plastic bag it may not become anything because the chemicals in it just aren’t sturdy anymore. If it is used again, virgin (new) plastic is added to it to “up” its quality. Which just adds more plastic into our world. 2. We don’t know if it can be recycled so we toss it. Do you know what those numbers within the recycling symbol means? Neither do I. I actually had to research each one and I still can’t remember what they all mean. But in general. The numbers are there to tell us what type of plastic (yes, there are different types) it is. And it helps us know if it is recyclable in our area (but you have to first know what numbers your local recycler takes - so do your research). Let’s break down the plastic numbers: #1 – PETE – Polyethylene Terephthalate (easiest to recycle, typically) #2 – HDPE – High-Density Polyethylene #3 – PVC – Polyvinyl Chloride #4 – LPDE – Low-Density Polyethylene #5 – PP – Polypropylene #6 – PS – Polystyrene #7 – Any plastic not part of numbers 1 – 6 (often the hardest to recycle) What about all those plastic items with no recycling symbol? Unfortunately, in most places that means it has to go in your trash bin. It is important to first contact your local recycling company to see if they do take items like single-use plastic bags and other non-labeled items before throwing it away. 3. We don’t realize the impact of plastic on our environment. It’s really easy to use up a plastic item and throw it in the trash, especially if we’re out and about or we’re not near a recycling bin. But plastics have a huge impact on our environment, especially single-use plastics. Plastics are made from fossil fuels, which we all know is terrible for the environment to begin with. Then when we don’t recycle what we can, new plastic is made, using more fossil fuels. When plastic ends up in the trash it pollutes our planet by ending up in landfills or in our environment where chemicals from the plastic leach into soil and water. Plus plastic is terrible for wildlife both on land and at sea. What Can You Do? -Refuse plastics, especially single-use plastics -When they are unavoidable, find fun new ways to reuse the item -Recycle as much of your plastics as your local area allows -Write to big plastic polluting companies and tell them to stop using plastic and start cleaning it up. (This is a great video showing the top 10 companies who produce plastic waste - -Talk to your local elected officials and tell them you want your area to be plastic-free (Find out who are your elected officials here: If you need help on how to talk/write to your officials, try our how to page: -Share this article with friends and family on social media to spread the word!



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