Making a Bottles Only Program the Right One
Recycling arrows don’t equal recyclability. Almost all plastic products are imprinted with a resin code – the small number enclosed by “chasing arrows.” In reality, this symbol means nothing about its recyclability!! Confusing? Yes. Misleading? Definitely, and deliberately! Much effort has gone into making people believe plastics are an environmentally friendly product. Plastic manufacturers (who use mostly virgin petroleum), not plastic recyclers, tout the recyclability of plastics to increase product sales.
There are serious, proven health concerns with plastics. Plastics contain harmful chemicals in the form of plasticizers, lubricants, pigments, stabilizers and more. There are over 82,000 synthetic chemicals registered for use in commerce there has been safety testing on only 200 (5 being banned including PCB’s, asbestos and dioxin). This does not mean that other chemicals or other plastics are entirely safe – they just haven’t been studied. Plastics degrade with use such as being heated in a microwave, cleaned with harsh chemicals, or scratched. Chemicals that go into the manufacturing process have been proven to leach out and cause health concerns – BPA and phthalates are examples.
PVC/#3 – The Poison Plastic. This is one of the most hazardous consumer products ever created and should be phased out, not recycled. It is highly toxic throughout its life cycle. When produced or burned, PVC releases dioxins. PVC packaging has been found to leach toxins and carcinogens into their contents, and eventually into the person using them, especially when food or beverages are heated in the plastic.
Plastics are made from a finite resource: petroleum. The production, consumption, and disposal of petroleum products contribute significantly to climate change and a host of other environmental and human health problems. Further, unless recycled plastic replaces virgin petroleum in the manufacturing process of new plastic containers, it does little to reduce our use of petroleum.
LIMITATIONS OF PLASTIC RECYCLING
Extensive sorting is required. To be processed and made into other products, plastics must be carefully sorted by exact type, which can be very expensive.
Collection is expensive. Because plastic is light and bulky, and takes up lots of space, transportation is not as efficient and so is more costly.
Markets are widely varied and complicated. The markets for #1 and #2 plastic bottles were established over many years and continue to be stable, verifiable and widespread. When our plastics are shipped overseas to China, India, and other countries they are processed under work standards and environmental standards that are much lower than ours. We are not only responsible for human impact of our recycling over seas, also toxins that are released since toxins do not stay local.
WHAT MAKES RECYCLING FOR #1 AND #2 BOTTLES WORK?
Because there are so many bottles, recyclers focused on the development of this infrastructure. Over the last decade the recycled bottles markets became stable, verifiable and widespread. And we haven’t even come close to collecting all the bottles we can recycle – in 2010 only 21% of all #1 bottles were recycled. Other products marked with #1 or #2, like tubs and trays have different chemicals added that give them different properties and melting points. This prevents them from being recycled with bottles.