Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. We see the logo, we hear the tagline everywhere. We haven’t had much trouble with reducing and reusing. However, we struggle with recycling for a plethora of reasons. Recycling starts from our abodes, right at the point of our disposition. Governments and local authorities have proactively promoted households to separate the wastes into those that can be recycled and the others that cannot. Note that this is subject to the area’s jurisdiction and the capacity of the closest recycling facility to process a type of plastic. From this point on, the onus shifts over waste pickers, scrap dealers who are responsible to oversee the recycling process and ensuring lesser and lesser plastics reach our environment.
But it isn’t as simple as it sounds. Plastics go through various stages of screening and segregation before they finally are recycled and come back at our disposal. Only a palpable 9% of the plastics produced are recycled, with just 12% incinerated. The rest of it goes to the landfills, oceans and dumps, untreated. There are many factors why we’re low on the numbers. Here are five facts you probably weren’t aware of the plastics recycling process and industry:
# Dirty plastics cannot be recycled.
Leftover food and organic wastes in the plastics cannot be recycled. These wastes get contaminated as a result of which, they cannot be processed or cleared for further recycling. Just one contaminated tin does not affect the whole pile but it makes the process a lot harder. The plastic might be a PET (highly recyclable) but if it fails this test of being free from contamination, then it ends in the pile of huge landfill where wastes are generally dumped and take centuries to erase its mark off our planet. A simple way we can be adjusting our means is by washing the plastics off clean before we dump them to our bins.
# Plastic bottles are discarded enough for a year to go round the planet four times
Our plastics production have increased 200 fold times over the past five decades. And all the plastics produced in a year take less than half a year to reach its maximum utility. Metals and glasses on the other hand, can be recycled infinitely as opposed to plastics which can maximum be recycled 3 times. By carrying a water bottle everywhere and filling water from taps instead of purchasing, we help contribute towards eliminating the crisis.
# More than 90% of our plastics in oceans come from just 10 rivers!
Just ten rivers contribute to the 90% our ocean plastic pollution! These rivers serve as the source of livelihood along its course. They also collect along with it all the wastes in its course and flow into the ocean. The common pattern in these rivers is that they are located in areas with high population density and have poor waste management systems. Eight of them are in Asia: the Yangtze; Indus; Yellow; Hai He; Ganges; Pearl; Amur; Mekong; and two in Africa – the Nile and the Niger. The respective Governments have taken initiatives to clean up the mess; collective action will amount in the difference they envision to see.
#The largest dumping site of plastics is not a landfill – it’s an ocean – it’s the Pacific!
The Great Pacific Patch is the ‘trash vortex’ in the North Pacific Ocean. Bottles, tins and cans discarded from the countries in the Pacific Rim make their way to the Pacific Ocean. First discovered in the 1990s, a whopping amount of these plastics enter mostly from the Asian countries of Indonesia and China. Most of the single-use plastics are less dense than the water which keeps them floating on water. On exposure to the sun, they disintegrate to millions of microplastics which becomes a part of our marine ecosystem. By 2050, reports show more plastics than fishes in our oceans. Technology has been harnessed to solve the issue but nothing better than preventing the actual entry of these plastics into our oceans.
# Our recycling habits are flawed – and needs revamping.
The recycling bins that sport colours of blue, green, red, yellow with Reduce. Reuse. Recycle logo on it may not be a very viable solution as we all think it is. And the reason might be us since we are not consciously disposing of the wastes. We all want to help the environment emerge from the crisis but very few of us want to recycle. It is a process that demands consistent efforts but once made a habit, we are one step closer. Different coloured bins have different purposes: blue for metals and tins, green and red for paper goods. More than often, it’s the ignorance of knowledge in the recycling properties of the material and we end up putting non – recyclables in the recyclables category.
Every part of the value chain is in a way responsible for the alarming, disappointing recycling results. While we take caution to undo our faults, more initiatives are simultaneously taken to find alternative sustainable, solutions. Meanwhile, Technological startups are changing the way wastes are managed and plastics are recycled.
We believe that by going #PlasticNeutral, you can be part of a radical reworking of the world’s material economy – an ethical AND efficient circular economy where we reduce waste, revive lives, and restore nature’s balance.