The Plastic Problem

On a daily basis we buy, use, and generate a huge amount of plastic. Once this plastic is used, usually for a very short time, it’s discarded. Depending on where you live, you might drop it off at a local recycling point or they’ll collect it from your home to take it to further processing. 

This is normally where the problems begin.

But why - it’s being recycled, right? 

Well, the plastic that people throw in their recycling bin is unsorted, usually dirty and often mixed with other materials (the soda bottle with the film label, for example). As we’ve learned already, separating plastics is fundamental to proper recycling and well, they aren’t going to do it for us. Industrial sorting is possible, with infrared scanning, water density techniques and hand picking, but it’s no way near efficient enough to sort through the 348 million metric tons that is produced every year. As if this isn't enough, collection systems worldwide are not standardized. Every country and municipality within that country has different regulations.

Okay, that's grim. So what happens to it?

Sometimes the plastic is recycled. As you’ve probably read somewhere, it’s only around 9%. It needs to go through a very complex, expensive, time-consuming and energy-intensive process and most countries don’t even have this option.

The other, more likely scenario is that plastic is either burnt, sent to a landfill, dumped in the ocean, or sent on a cargo ship to Asia or Africa. These solutions cause huge environmental damage and social oppression.

Adapted from Precious Plastic website.

Collection systems have to be subsidized by the state through taxpayer money, which is a beaureucratic and Eurocentric system in and of itself. In most places, this is not organizationally possible, especially considering the fact that this problem of excess did not originate in the countries where the waste itself ends up. The west is the biggest producer of plastic waste on the planet. Are we saying that the current recycling system is racist and colonialist? Yes. Let's do something about it.