Bloomberg Opinion’s Adam Minter struck a chord with a recent post discussing how plastic recycling can work. Minter’s main point was spot on, but his presentation was somewhat misleading. Like so many others unable to see that the recycling picture isn’t so rosy, he asserts that the idea that plastic recycling doesn’t work is a myth.
There are plenty on the anti-recycling side unafraid to claim that plastic recycling is a myth. Some even go so far as to call it an outright lie. Both they and those who take Minter’s position are playing the two ends of the spectrum. The truth is somewhere in the middle.
How can that be? Because they are not defining their terms. In addition, neither side admits that they are on the far ends of the spectrum. Neither side actually comes to the middle to see the real picture of plastic recycling.
Residential Plastic Recycling
Those that maintain plastic recycling is a myth are speaking exclusively of residential plastic recycling. They aren’t wrong. Whether critics like it or not, upwards of 90% of consumer and residential plastics end up in landfills. It is not being recycled. So anyone who claims wide-scale recycling success is perpetuating a myth.
On the other hand, Minter actually toured a very successful Minnesota recycling plant in preparation for his piece. What he witnessed was not residential recycling. The company did not bring in hordes of recyclables taken from curbside bins and turn them into sheer profit. Rather, the company practices a specialized form of industrial plastic recycling. That makes an enormous difference.
Plastic recycling isn’t a myth in the industrial sector. Tennessee-based Seraphim Plastics proves it every day. Like the Minnesota company, Seraphim actually purchases industrial scrap plastic from companies in seven states. They transform it into regrind and sell it to manufacturers.
Only One Works
The myth that says plastic recycling isn’t a myth is rooted in industrial recycling. When you compare what Seraphim Plastics does against what most municipal recycling programs do, you discover that only one model works. That model is the industrial model.
Up in Minnesota, Minter was shown a load of plastic lids that were supposed to be used to close wipe containers. For whatever reason, the lids could not be used by the manufacturer. They were sent for recycling. The lids were eventually to be turned into components for plastic flower pots.
That is a far cry from taking a load of filthy residential plastics, sorting them from the trash, cleaning everything, and then sending what you have remaining off to buyers. This is why the residential model doesn’t work. This is why it truly is a myth.
The Useless Curbside Bin
Across America, homeowners put those useless curbside bins out with the trash every week. They dutifully do so under the false impression that their plastics will be recycled. It rarely happens. Nearly all that plastic ends up in a landfill.
In fairness, Minter’s main point is still valid: plastic recycling does work. It works when it is done following the industrial model, which is truly the key to ending the plastic problem. We can solve the residential plastic issue once and for all if we scrap the residential model and start over with an industrial model.
If we don’t, residential plastic recycling will continue to be a myth irrespective of how many pro-recycling advocates insist otherwise. Their myth is no more truthful than the one they are trying to dispel.