Spokespeople for the plastic industry are fond of pointing to recycling as the solution to the plastic pollution problem. However, not all types of plastic can be recycled, the recycling process can be energy intensive and wasteful, and environmentalists worry that putting the emphasis on recycling does nothing to stem the tide of new plastic entering the world. Moreover, recycling rates for plastic are notoriously low.
30 million tons of plastic waste were generated in the U.S. in 2009, representing 12.3 percent of total municipal solid waste. In 2009, the United States generated 13 million tons of plastics as containers and packaging, almost 11 million tons as durable goods, such as appliances, and almost 7 million tons as nondurable goods, for example plates and cups. (Source: EPA) Only 7 percent of the total plastic waste generated in the U.S. in 2009 was recovered for recycling. (Source: EPA)
Recycling rates for plastic bottles are higher than other plastic packaging, but are still around 20% (the industry puts it at 27%, but according to the Container Recycling Institute, it’s more like 20% --bottle caps and labels are included in the industry stats, but are not actually recycled. And while manufacturers often announce their intent to use recycled content in bottles, across major bottlers the average usage is 4% recycled content. (Source: Container Recycling Institute)
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