Some recent studies suggest that the plastic problem is only getting worse

It turns out that, despite visible efforts to cut down on plastic pollution, Americans are actually recycling far less plastic than they used to. According to a recent article in the Washington Post, the rate has fallen below 6 percent.

Drawing on the most recent EPA data available and last year’s plastic waste exports, the report outlined in the article says that Americans recycled 5 to 6 percent of their plastics last year, down from the 8.7 percent in 2018. The use of plastic went down at the beginning of the pandemic, but consumption has surged back up during the recovery.

Research cited in the article states that plastics production is on track to release more emissions than coal-fired power plants by the end of the decade. Millions of tons of plastic end up in the oceans each year, and microplastics pollution has even been found on Mount Everest.

The problem, experts say, is not so much the recycling rate. Instead, they say the issue lies with the amount of plastics being produced in the United States. Quoted in the article, the EPA says that high recycling rates for other materials like post-consumer paper, cardboard, and metal “prove that recycling can be an effective way to reclaim valuable natural material resources. The problem lies not with the concept or process of recycling but with the material itself—it is plastic recycling that has always failed.”

Globally, only 9 percent of plastic is recycled, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) first Global Plastics Outlook, which was published in February. Fifty percent ends up in landfills, 19 percent is incinerated, and 22 percent is “mismanaged” and ends up in uncontrolled dump sites, is burned in open pits or ends up as litter.

Read the full article on the Washington Post’s website here.

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