Greenpeace study reveals most plastic cannot be recycled

A new study by Greenpeace reveals most of the plastic generated in the world today cannot be recycled.

The report, Circular Claims Fall Flat Again, released yesterday, says that while paper, cardboard, and metals are all recycled at a high percentage rate, plastic fails on a massive scale.

The Greenpeace study reported that households in the United States generated about 51 million tonnes of waste plastic last year but only 2.4 million tonnes of that was recycled.

The report also found that plastic recycling was down to about 5–6% in 2021 from a high of 9.5% in 2014 and almost 9% in 2018.

Greenpeace USA Senior Plastics Campaigner Lisa Ramsden, said…

“Corporations like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, and Unilever have worked with industry front groups to promote plastic recycling as the solution to plastic waste for decades. But the data is clear, most plastic is just not recyclable. The real solution is to switch to systems of reuse and refill.”

According to the report, mechanical and chemical recycling of plastic waste fails because plastic waste is extremely difficult to collect, virtually impossible to sort for recycling, environmentally harmful to reprocess, often made of and contaminated by toxic materials, and not economical to recycle.

Ramsden pointed out that single-use plastics are like trillions of pieces of confetti spewed from retail and fast food stores to over 330 million US residents across more than 3 million square miles each year.

“It’s simply not possible to collect the vast quantity of these small pieces of plastic sold to US consumers annually. More plastic is being produced, and an even smaller percentage of it is being recycled. The crisis just gets worse and worse, and, without drastic change, will continue to worsen as the industry plans to triple plastic production by 2050.

“We are at a decision point on plastic pollution. It is time for corporations to turn off the plastic tap. Instead of continuing to greenwash and mislead the public, the industry should stand on the right side of history this November and support an ambitious Global Plastics Treaty that will finally end the age of plastic by significantly decreasing production and increasing refill and reuse.”

Over 99% of plastic is made from fossil fuels and big brands are fueling climate impacts and jeopardizing communities in the name of profits. All over the world, communities face disproportionate health impacts from the plastics industry, whether through incinerators, landfills, petrochemical facilities, polluted waterways, or the harmful plastic packaging pushed on communities.

The report urges companies to take several additional steps to mitigate the systemic problems associated with plastic recycling, including phasing out single-use plastics, committing to standardized reusable packaging, and adopting a Global Plastics Treaty to help set international standards.

Two years ago Greenpeace named and shamed Thailand’s worst polluters.

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Bob Scott

Bob Scott is an experienced writer and editor with a passion for travel. Born and raised in Newcastle, England, he spent more than 10 years in Asia. He worked as a sports writer in the north of England and London before relocating to Asia. Now he resides in Bangkok, Thailand, where he is the Editor-in-Chief for The Thaiger English News. With a vast amount of experience from living and writing abroad, Bob Scott is an expert on all things related to Asian culture and lifestyle.

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