We are facing a Plastic Waste Crisis of alarming proportions, with over 400 million tonnes of plastic being produced annually, half of which is designed for single-use purposes.
Industrialization of coast lines
Unveiling the Illusion of Advanced Recycling
We are facing a Plastic Waste Crisis of alarming proportions, with over 400 million tonnes of plastic being produced annually, half of which is designed for single-use purposes1. Shockingly, less than 10% of this plastic is recycled globally1. In the United States, the situation is even grimmer, with a recycling rate of less than 6%2. The remaining 94% is disposed of in landfills, incinerated, or left to pollute our precious ecosystems1. The plastics industry, however, continues to engage in deceptive practices and false advertising, attempting to mislead the public about the effectiveness of recycling.
The Plastics Industry’s Lifeline:
The fossil fuel industry views plastics production as its lifeline, as it anticipates a doubling of production by 2040 and recognizes that plastic demand will drive oil consumption3. Consequently, major players in the industry, including Shell and Unilever, are championing the concept of “advanced recycling” as a solution to the plastic waste crisis.
Greenwashing and Industry Support:
The impetus for advancing recycling technologies comes from two key sources: major oil and chemical companies that manufacture petrochemicals for plastics, and global consumer brands that heavily rely on plastic packaging3. These corporations are forging partnerships with startups that claim to convert plastic waste into fuel or recycled resin for the production of new plastic.
The Call for Change:
Several cities in the United States and Europe have already implemented bans or consumer fees on single-use plastic bags (https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/environment-plastic-oil-recycling/), while there is mounting pressure for “polluter-pays” laws, which would shift the financial burden of waste management onto the companies that produce and utilize plastic3. Maine recently became the first U.S. state to pass such legislation. However, the industry’s response has been to advocate for advanced recycling, promoting it as an economic solution and urging lawmakers to relax regulations and offer incentives to these recycling companies.
The Illusion of Advanced Recycling:
Advanced recycling, also known as “chemical recycling,” encompasses various processes that use heat or chemicals to convert plastic waste into fuel or reclaimed resin for new plastic production. The American Chemistry Council, dominated by plastics manufacturers, contends that “polluter-pays” measures would harm the economy and instead supports advanced recycling3. Consequently, there has been a proliferation of advanced recycling projects worldwide since 2018, driven by the need for developed countries to manage their own waste after China’s ban on plastic imports3. Additionally, investors are attracted to this emerging green-tech industry.
Environmental Injustice and Deceptive Practices:
Behind the veneer of advanced recycling lies a dark reality. These recycling facilities are often located in disadvantaged communities, compounding environmental injustices4. The pollution and emissions generated by these facilities further burden already marginalized communities, perpetuating a cycle of harm and inequality.
The plastic waste crisis demands immediate attention and genuine solutions. The illusion of advanced recycling propagated by the plastics industry and its supporters must be exposed. Greenwashing and deceptive practices cannot hide the fact that plastic production and disposal, including advanced recycling, contribute to environmental pollution and climate damage. Instead of perpetuating this unjust and unsustainable cycle, it is essential to prioritize comprehensive zero-waste reforms and eliminate single-use plastics. Only then can we address the plastic waste crisis and safeguard the well-being of both our planet and vulnerable communities.