How Much Plastic Waste is Actually Recycled?


Reducing our environmental impact is on everyone’s mind, and many see plastic recycling as a crucial step. However, it may not be helping solve our plastic problems as much as we want it to.

While recycling is vital in the fight against plastic pollution, it’s clear that we need alternative solutions to address our inability to recycle the vast amounts and various types of plastics we consume. At Office H2O, we’ve already helped more than 600,000 people quit using plastic bottles in the office setting with our bottleless water coolers, but is it enough? We’re just a small part of a global problem, and we’re here to tell you that not enough of our plastic waste is recycled.

Why Plastic Waste is a Problem

Plastic is everywhere, from everyday items like bags and bottles to car parts and building materials. In 2015, almost 7 million tons of virgin plastic were produced worldwide, and only 9% of that has been recycled, while 12% has been burned, and the rest is either still in use, in landfills, or polluting our environment. In some cases, energy recovery from the incineration process is possible. But in poorer countries, waste plastic is often simply burnt, further damaging the environment by releasing dangerous chemicals into the air.

Here’s How Much Plastic Waste is Littering the Earth

In just 60 years, mass plastic production has exploded, resulting in a staggering 8.3 billion metric tons — most of which are used for single-use items, like bottles, that quickly become waste. Even the scientists who first attempted to tally the number of plastic materials produced, discarded, and disposed of were shocked by the magnitude of the numbers.

Plastic can take over 400 years to break down, so the vast majority of it ever since it was first produced still exists in some form today. By mid-century, it’s predicted that the oceans will contain more plastic waste than fish, weight for weight. That is 35,000 times heavier than the Empire State Building.

In Landfills

The recycling industry is in a crisis due to overwhelming amounts of non-recyclable materials mixed in with the recyclables. The situation worsened when China stopped accepting America’s recyclables in 2018, resulting in hundreds of cities reducing or halting their recycling programs altogether.

As a result, massive amounts of valuable recyclable materials ended up and are continuing to go in landfills. In 2018 alone, landfills received 27 million tons of plastic. Recent research warns that if we don’t act now, the world’s mismanaged plastic waste could triple by 2060.

In the Oceans

It’s hard to escape the presence of waste, as plastic marine debris, in particular, accounts for around 80% of trash in the world’s oceans. Even more disturbing, a separate study by the World Wildlife Foundation found that fishing gear and nets make up 10% of marine litter yearly, amounting to anywhere between 1 and 2 billion pounds.

Beyond fishing gear, our marine environment is inundated with other plastic debris, from packaging materials and cigarette butts to bottles and grocery bags regularly found in large amounts. The Ocean Conservancy reports that most marine plastic pollution enters the oceans due to landfill leakages, beach littering, mismanaged waste, and sewer and storm overflows.

Why Most Plastic isn’t Getting Recycled

Plastic recycling is often praised for its positive environmental impact, but the reality can be disappointing. Less than 10% of the world’s plastic waste has been recycled, most ending up in landfills and the world’s oceans. According to a Greenpeace study, a few reasons for this is because plastic waste;

  • poses excellent difficulty in gathering
  • virtually impossible to sort for recycling
  • causes environmental harm during the reprocessing phase
  • made of and contaminated by toxic materials
  • not economical to recycle

Comparatively, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that paper, cardboard, metal, and glass require less effort for recycling and are successfully processed at high rates.

While it is crucial, most recycling facilities’ current capacity needs to catch up with the amount and types of plastic we throw away. That’s why we must find quick solutions to tackle the massive plastic pollution problem worldwide!

What is Recyclable and Non-recyclable

Knowing which plastics cannot be recycled is crucial in choosing eco-friendly alternatives. Recycling plastic is not a one-size-fits-all process. While most plastics are recyclable, the effectiveness and frequency of recycling can vary widely between the seven different categories of plastics. Each plastic type requires unique machinery and processes, and some products can even pose hazards to recycling equipment, such as plastic bags and plastic packaging that easily jam.

Ever wondered what the numbers on the bottom of plastic products mean? They’re not just random digits. They’re a crucial part of the Resin Identification code, which categorizes plastic products based on their resin composition. Simply check the number at the bottom. If it reads #3, #6, or #7, it’s not recyclable. Knowing this can help you make informed decisions and minimize waste.

What to do with Plastic that Cannot be Recycled

Start by contacting your local recycling center to determine if they can recycle specific types of plastic. If not, explore free nationwide recycling programs offered by select centers. Some centers accept a variety of typically hard-to-recycle waste streams such as contact lenses, makeup products, e-waste, oral care products, cigarette waste, and more!

5 Interesting Ways to Recycle

Discover how to transform plastic materials into something entirely new with these creative ideas.

Build Eco-Bricks

Create your building material at home with eco-bricks made from recycled items like old jars, food wrappers, and fishing gear! Not only are they environmentally friendly and free from toxic chemicals, but they are also versatile and can be reused for different purposes. You can use them to build raised gardens, planters, or walls while retaining water and preventing erosion.

Create Vertical Gardens

Repurposing soda bottles is a budget-friendly way to create your vertical garden. Simply remove the cap, add soil, and start planting. Not only is this an excellent money-saving solution, but it’s also environmentally friendly.

Reuse Glass Bottles as Vases

Transform empty glass bottles into beautiful vases with just a few paint strokes! Not only is it cost-effective, but it’s also a responsible way to repurpose and reduce plastic waste. Spruce up your interior décor or outdoor space with this effortlessly stylish DIY project.

Upcycled Art

Want to be more creative with your sustainable practices? Try upcycled art! Instead of throwing away plastic debris and raw materials, use them to create unique pieces like collages made from recycled plastic or sculptures crafted from scrap metal.

Do More for the Environment with Office H2O!

Transitioning to a more sustainable lifestyle can be easily achieved through a simple guideline: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle! Reducing plastic consumption while improving the quality of your drinking water in the office is now possible with an Office H2O bottleless water system! Our cutting-edge filtration process ensures that your water is safe and of the highest quality, and doesn’t not require the use of plastic bottles or jugs.

With nine stages of purification technology, you can trust that every drop is free of impurities and contaminants. Say goodbye to wasteful plastic bottles and enjoy fresh, clean water on demand! Get in touch with us today to start your FREE 7-day trial.

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