Updated: Jul 2
Introduction Most of the working age population learned the "three Rs" of environmentalism in school: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. The idea that we can reduce our consumption and reuse things instead of throwing them away is something everyone can get behind. But recycling? That's a bit more complicated, especially when it comes to plastics. In this article, we debunk 6 common myths about plastic recycling and give you a better sense of what's actually happening with plastics today. Recycling plastic can be confusing. Recycling plastic can be confusing, especially if you're trying to figure out what can go in the recycling bin. If you've ever wondered what happens to the plastic you put in your curbside bin or at a local collection center, this article will help clear up some common misconceptions about recycling plastics. Plastic is made from petroleum and it's valuable as a resource because it's durable and long-lasting. However, not all plastics are recyclable: some types of plastic cannot be recycled due to mechanical limitations or contamination issues resulting from their use with food and drink containers. The type of plastic used plays an important role in determining how easily it can be recycled again; the more complex its composition (i.e., whether it contains multiple materials), the less likely it'll be accepted at many recycling centers. PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) is the most recycled plastic in the world PET is the most recycled plastic in the world because it's the most widely used plastic. PET is found in food packaging, water bottles, fizzy drinks, clothing and other household items. The amount of PET that gets recycled has increased dramatically over time—it's up from 2% to 41% since 2006. This increase can be attributed to a few trends: new technologies have made recycling easier and more cost effective; consumers are getting better at separating waste streams; and there’s been an explosion of companies like TerraCycle that collect hard-to-recycle materials for cash rewards Most plastics used at home are technically recyclable, but not all of them can be accepted by city recycling programs. It's important to remember that most plastics used at home are technically recyclable, but not all of them can be accepted by city recycling programs. Some types of plastic packaging are not accepted by curbside programs because they're too difficult to separate from other materials during the sorting process. For those that can't, it makes them practically unrecyclable, even though technically they can be. The first step in determining whether or not a plastic item is recyclable is checking the bottom of your container and the lid —if there's a number inside the triangular recycling symbol (see below), it means your container has been assigned one of seven categories that determine its recyclability. These numerical resin codes define the wider class of plastics they belong to. You can find the closest place recycled by visiting https://www.bpf.co.uk/recycling/where-can-i-recycle-my-plastic.aspx Plastics are not toxic, even though they're made from petroleum. Plastics are not toxic but are made from oil, which is converted into naphtha/petroleum. But if it's not biodegradable, why would we want to use it? It's true that the bulk of our plastic waste ends up in landfills where it will sit for centuries. But plastics are valuable resources that often have lower environmental damage than other materials like cement and even textiles! There's no such thing as a cancer causing plastic bottle or bag. You can drink from plastic bottles without fear of cancer or other illness. While it's true that the chemicals in plastics have been linked to cancer and other health problems in lab rats, those studies were done using high levels of exposure, using the core elements, not crystallised polymer plastic, over an extended period of time—and even then, some scientists argue that it would be impossible for humans to consume enough plastic products to reach those levels without deliberately trying. Needing some 770 x 300ml bottles to increase the risk. Most people don't drink all day long from PET bottles. So while there may be some risk involved with drinking out of these beverage containers on occasion, it's extremely small compared to what would be required for serious harm as seen in lab animals subjected to high dosages over long periods of time.* Some commentators have argued plastic bags cause breast cancer because they contain BPA. Bisphenol A is a chemical used in many plastics - from water bottles to food storage containers - to make them resistant to heat and sturdier than glass alternatives. However, they have been shown to have a correlation to infertility in large enough quantities in rats. Also, having plastics that are "BPA free" may contain Biphenol-S or Bisphenol-F which stay around in the body longer and can be worse as a result. Making it a for of health "greenwashing".
Recent research has shown no correlation between BPA exposure through consumer goods like these items and cancer risk among humans.* and to quote one study from 2002: "There are significant differences between rats and humans." human exposure to BPA is limited to 1% of the amount found to have an effect in rats, this doesn't mean you should not be careful though and plastic water bottles are a pointless invention in the developed world, given the prevalence of desalinated water in taps.
Luckily, some areas like baby bottles are not allowed to use Bisphenol at all in their production. So that risk is removed. This is also why recycling plastics for food grade plastics has to be considered carefully. The more the plastics are mechanically recycled, the more decrystallisation occurs. Which might make it fine for a coat hoot, but not for another bottle.
One company can't do it all when it comes to recycling PET
Over 6.5 million tonnes of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) were recovered and reprocessed into new products in the USA alone. The material is made from petroleum, that can be used again to produce food-grade bottles and containers for other consumer goods such as clothing, carpeting and packaging bags. PET is such a valuable resource that many manufacturers are obligated to recycle it at their manufacturing sites—but not all do so successfully. When recycling facilities receive contaminated or mixed streams of PET—such as when consumers put dirty bottles into curbside bins—it’s difficult for them to sort out which type(s) of plastic make up each product stream; this causes contamination issues which result in lower quality recyclates that must be sold at a reduced rate on the commodity market (the cheapest plastics). Companies like Automedi are changing that game. The team ARE able to recycle PET and other plastics that council recycling can't and make things under one roof. Plastics are a valuable part of our everyday lives and can be recycled, but not everything should go in your local curbside recycling program. Some plastics can be recycled, and others cannot. Here are two myths about plastic recycling that you should not believe:
Plastics don’t biodegrade There is no scientific evidence that plastics are toxic to human health, but there is a lot of evidence showing they're not biodegradable in any reasonable time frame. That said, most do degrade and release tiny tiny microparticules, called microplastics, when they do.
Also, plastics have an effect on animal welfare when allowed to escape into the environment. The problem with this myth is that people tend to confuse “not-biodegradable” with “toxic.” The two terms have nothing to do with each other—plastics aren't toxic simply because they don't break down in soil or water over time (unless you heat them up enough).
However, many plastics in and near the sea are eaten by fish and birds, because they smell like food. They stay in their gut, taking up space, undigested. Animals that ingested them feel always full and eventually, die from malnutrition. Because their stomachs are too full of plastic to get enough food. Affecting feed chains and even fishing communities. That's why we need to clear up coastal areas. All types of plastic can be recycled Only certain types of plastics are accepted by local curbside recycling programs. Many people put all plastics in their one recycle bin only for it to mix and contaminate the plastic segregation process. So these materials will end up in landfills where they won’t break down for centuries—or longer! Some cities only accept some types of recyclable plastic bottles; others expand their collection efforts even further by accepting all rigid containers made from these same numbers. Like yogurt cups and detergent bottles (but note that this doesn't include bags). If your city doesn't accept these items at its curb side locations then it doesn't mean you shouldn't recycle them at all - instead check out our guide on how best to keep your recyclables out of landfills through municipal and voluntary drop off centers
Conclusion When it comes to recycling, there's a lot of misinformation out there. However, that doesn't mean we shouldn't reduce our need for plastics. We definitely should! The problem is what we do with the plastics that currently exist? Our oceans, land and communities are full of it and burning it simply creates more pollution. Which is why Circular economies and plastic recycling must be part of that solution.
We hope this post has cleared up some common misconceptions about plastic production and recycling! If you're like me and want to know more, then I recommend checking out the British Plastics Association website at https://www.bpf.co.uk/recycling/where-can-i-recycle-my-plastic.aspx