A growing number of people think we have a serious plastics problem.
And a lot of the frustration has been directed against something in particular: plastic straws.
In part, this issue has been about something else: recycling rates for plastics that need improving.
We all know that unlike some other products, virtually all plastics end up in the trash can after a single use. A 2017 report published in Science Advances indicated that nearly 80 percent of all plastic waste ends up in landfills – or, more troubling for many, ends up being tossed aside. It has become a rising waste problem, particularly in our oceans and in the habitat of wildlife, especially ducks, turtles, and other sea mammals.
About 12% of plastics is burned up in incinerators, while just 9% is actually recycled, Science Advances noted. That’s why Seattle became the first major American city to ban single-use plastic straws and utensils, followed by San Francisco. A number of corporations have done the same, with Starbucks, Aramark and American Airlines among the companies that have all pledged to stop offering plastic straws.
The problem is, bans are becoming a more popular solution than working to increase recycling rates of plastics, even though the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries noted that recycled plastics require 88% less energy to produce new plastic products than non-recycled resins.
IRSI also noted that recycling has become a huge, economically viable business, supporting more than 500,000 direct and indirect jobs, while contributing $117 billion to the U.S. economy. So why are we not working to increase recycling rates?
The issue may eventually shift back to ways of improving plastics recycling in the U.S. If the voices in favor of recycling are loud enough, that could also lead to a larger discussion on the environmental benefits of recycling a wide variety of products, not just plastics but also scrap metals, e-waste, and anything else that can pose risks to the environment if it ends up in landfills.
Because as a result of the plastic straw bans, there’s a growing interest in improving plastic recycling in the U.S., which also means getting consumers to clean and sort their recyclables.
There’s also a push for investing in better technologies for sorting and reusing waste plastics and creating incentives for producers to buy and use recycled plastic. The idea makes sense to expand, not abandon, the system by encouraging large-scale investment in better recycling of plastic litter.
Why Are Cities Banning Plastic Straws?
The movement is on. Starbucks vowed to remove their iconic green sippers from store shelves by 2020, Seattle banned all plastic utensils — including straws — from bars and businesses city-wide, and San Francisco did the same. It was in response to how much plastics-related trash is piling up around the globe, and it’s not just straws that are the focus. Many environmental activists want people to start using less plastic and fast.
But is it realistic to expect a sweeping ban of most plastics? Recycling sounds like a much more sensible and practical solution.
Environmentalists counter that while plastics in straws are recyclable, most of them simply don’t get recycled. Far too many straws have ended up in the ocean, causing serious harm to the wildlife there. Plastic objects identified in the ocean patches have included containers, bottles, lids, bottle caps, packaging straps, ropes, and fishing nets.
In fact, the anti-straw movement really took off after a video went viral showing a plastic straw encrusted in the nose of a male sea turtle off the coast of Costa Rica.
That turtle would become the literal poster child for the anti-straw movement and it’s helped spur action in the cities that have banned these straws altogether.
However, there’s a larger debate going on, that it will take more than simply banning straws to tackle this challenge. The larger picture involves changing behavior.
That’s why the debate keeps coming back to recycling, and the need to promote not just commercial plastics recycling, plastic bag recycling, plastic film recycling, and so on – but the recycling of anything that could pose risks to our environment by ending up in landfills, such as scrap metal or e-Waste.
What Can Be Done to Promote More Recycling?
It’s been demonstrated since the 1960s that while unregulated pollution can cause serious problems to our land and water, once the Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1970 and the U.S. began regulating it, our economy improved as well.
Today there’s a solid link between recycling providing a boost not only to our environment but also our economy.
Take scrap metal as an example. When individuals or businesses take their scrap to an experienced recycling firm like GLE Scrap Metal, that keeps the material out of landfills. Instead, GLE Scrap Metal performs environmentally-friendly processing and recycling of all base and precious metals, while maintaining a zero-landfill policy to efficiently utilize natural resources and help conserve energy.
Recycled scrap can be used over and over again and can help make new products, thus reducing the cost of the manufacturing process.
Both the scrap and plastics recycling markets have been facing a challenge since 2017, when China announced it was cracking down on how much waste it imports from the U.S. That’s helped lead to new investments in U.S. plastics recycling facilities, which is expected to help absorb much of the supply of used plastics that would previously have gone to China.
And in the long run, these investments are also likely to help stabilize the domestic market for recycled materials. It could also help increase the number of U.S. jobs in plastics recycling.
Better education remains a key. Providing citizens with an improved understanding of what is and isn’t recyclable could help produce a stronger national recycling rate. At the same time, advanced technologies like optical sorters can also help strengthen yields, improve quality, and increase efficiency in recycling, making this an even more appealing alternative to bans on plastics.
Some of these technologies have been shown to be efficient at sorting more types of plastics, and other new technologies are being developed to chemically recycle plastics, which means that used plastics can get converted back into their original feedstock, which also helps to increase circularity.
For too long, recycling in the U.S. has put too much focus on collecting, but not enough on sorting these recyclables, and matching the demand for recycled material to make new products.
With so much attention now on the issue of banning plastic straws and what to do about growing amounts of plastic waste, this seems to be the ideal time for a stronger public dialogue about how plastic is recycled, what uses there are for recycled plastic products and the major environmental benefits of doing this.
It’s true that plastic materials have become a hotly contested issue today, especially regarding marine litter. But it’s highly unrealistic to set a goal of eliminating plastic not only from the environment but from the world generally.
Putting the spotlight back on recycling is a smarter approach, but the dialogue doesn’t need to begin and end with recycling plastics, or simply the question, “Is plastic recyclable?” We can expand the dialogue to increase other items we want to keep out of landfills, such as scrap metal.
Scrap recycling remains a fast-growing industry for several good reasons. Manufacturers have come to rely on recycled scrap to reduce costs when they manufacture new products, and we all enjoy the benefit of a healthier environment when we keep waste scrap out of our landfills.
What we need now is to educate individuals and businesses about recycling, not only plastics but also bringing their scrap metal to recycling firms like GLE Scrap Metal.
The scrap metal you bring to GLE will be processed and supplied to global end-users to be transformed into new products.
GLE Scrap Metal is continually training its staff on environmental procedures and follows the guidelines set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and ISRI. GLE also works closely with professional environmental consultants to maintain compliance on all existing and future environmental laws and standards.
Call GLE Scrap Metal today at 855-SCRAP-88 to request a quote.