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The sad reality is that when you put a plastic in a recycling container, no one takes responsibility for it being used for anything.
In reality, the chances of it being turned into another similar plastic object (that is, really recycled like metal or glass) are slim if not zero.
Plastics usually end up in the trash or the environment, at a terrible cost to the planet and human health, not just now, but for many future generations.
The willful misuse of the word "recycling"
Putting a plastic in a special container is not "recycling", since no one guarantees that it will be used for anything, much less that it will be recycled for real.
For technical and economic reasons, plastic is very expensive and complicated to really recycle, that is, in a closed cycle like metal or glass.
With some exceptions, the best thing that can happen to the plastic that we put in a container is that it is converted into other non-recyclable objects (what is called downcycling), lower-quality plastics, textiles ... That is, we are only delaying its arrival To the dump.
In addition, downcycling does not stop the need to manufacture millions of tons of new plastic to make more and more disposable objects. And in the science fiction assumption that we were able to “downcycling” 100% of the plastics that are manufactured, what would we do with the generated objects? Upholster the whole world with fleece fabrics?
The fallacy of recycling triangles
Another notable fallacy is the triangular symbols of "recycling" with arrows that we see drawn or engraved on the plastics and that carry a number inside. Those triangles with arrows do not at all mean that this plastic is recyclable. The numbers are a way of grouping the more than 80,000 plastic resins that exist today into 7 classes, and the arrows do not mean anything at all, they are simply there to deceive the consumer. Many groups have been demanding for years that these misleading symbols be removed.
Surprised? The dirty secrets of "recycling" plastic do not end there.
Citizens put plastic in recycling containers thinking that they will be recycled into similar objects. However, most of the plastic we put in the containers is thrown into the landfill, incinerated, or exported to countries like China.
In 2011 the EU exported 3.4 million tonnes of plastic garbage, especially to China, to be incinerated taking advantage of the lax environmental regulations, or to be converted into non-recyclable objects (downcycling), all under environmental and deplorable health. Canada, the US and other rich countries also export their plastic waste to Asia.
In some of the countries with the highest rates of “recycling” in the world, such as Germany, more than 50% of the plastic that is recovered is burned directly in incinerators, with a terrible impact on human health and the environment.
Looking at all this, putting plastic in special containers shouldn't be called “recycling”. Rather, we are facing an opaque and deceptive business, designed so that we remain with a clear conscience and remain hooked on disposable plastics, which allow millionaire benefits to a few, at the expense of health and the environment of all . (data sources)
The false "success" of recycling in Europe
Years of indoctrination and huge spending of public money have led to sophisticated recovery systems for some types of plastic (such as PET) in several European countries.
The industry mentions these systems as examples that the recycling of plastics is a true and sustainable solution and governments support them in this fallacy so as not to have to explain themselves to citizens for having become garbage dumps at the service of one of the most powerful industries. of the world. Let's see what actually happens.
According to the industry's own figures, in Europe only around 25% of the plastics produced are recovered. Within that 25%, in terms of waste generated by European consumers, in 2011 14.3 million tons were recovered, 58%. It seems that it is not bad as a figure, but where does all this recovered plastic go? 25% of that quantity, 3.4 million tons, is exported, almost all to China. (sources)
And what about the rest? In countries like Germany or the Nordic countries more than half is burned in incinerators. In other words, of every four plastics that the European consumer puts in a container "for recycling", two are burned, and one exported to China (where it will be burned or used in downcycling without environmental or labor guarantees). And what about the remaining 25%? Depending on the type of plastic (there are thousands!) And the place where it is recovered, three things can happen: that it goes directly to the garbage dump (the most normal thing), that it is converted into something non-recyclable (textiles, low-quality plastics, etc. ) or, the rarest of all, that it is effectively converted into a similar object and that, in turn, is recyclable again. This minimum residual percentage would be the true true recycling rate in Europe. A very different reality from what they want us to believe when they encourage us to "recycle".
This is the unfortunate truth of recycling that no one, not governments, not industry, not those who profit from all this want us to know.
What happens in developing countries, where 85% of the world's population lives?
In the US, the percentage of recovered plastics (which is not the same as recycled) compared to those produced barely exceeds 7%. In Europe it is 25%. We have already seen that two-thirds of these plastics are exported to poor countries or incinerated, and the rest, except for a small part, end up in landfills.
Now imagine what are the recovery rates for plastics in developing countries, where 85% of the world's population lives. These countries are drowning in a tide of plastic for lack of means to manage the waste generated by the culture of "use and dispose". Furthermore, Europe, the US and Canada export millions of tons of their plastic waste to poorer countries.
Time to wake up from the mirage of "recycling"
Putting things in colored containers will never be "recycling" as long as there are no economic or legal mechanisms that guarantee a closed cycle for those products.
It is time to make decisions based on the reality of the facts and on the intolerable impact of plastics on the environment and health. Decisions that also take into account the 85% of the world's population living in developing countries and who are drowning in plastic waste.
The real solution is to use common sense:
Breaking our addiction to disposable plastics. Reduce both redundant and useless packaging, design sustainable products, use reusable packaging, and choose truly recyclable materials such as glass, metal, and paper.
Instead of using public money to turn entire companies into garbage managers serving large corporations, manufacturers themselves should be legally responsible for the entire life cycle of each product, even after sale.
Today, manufacturers generally wash their hands once they have sold the product, and hold citizens and governments responsible for managing the massive amount of waste they generate with their unsustainable packaging and design decisions, at the cost of health and environment of all.
If manufacturers were responsible for paying for the waste they generate, we would see radical changes in the way products are designed, packaged and distributed.
In February 2013 an international group of scientists made a formal request to the rulers of the world for the plastic to be declared toxic and dangerous waste.
The Plastic Cream