The newest Last Beach Cleanup and Beyond Plastics report shows that the US can’t manage to recycle as much plastic as the general public thought. According to their data, only 5–6% of used plastic found its way into production again in 2021.
Last year’s plastic recycling score is all the more devastating, as it represents a significant drop from the 8.7% recycled plastic in 2018. The US kept up the recycling percentage of 9% for six full decades until 2015.
So why the sudden change?
Experts say that the landfills nationwide are filling up with plastic waste due to several reasons:
- Population growth
- The popularity of single-use plastic
- China’s 2017 ban on most US plastic waste exports
- The lack of recycling infrastructure
The average American produces about 218 lbs of plastic waste per person, which is significantly higher than the 60 lbs per capita produced 44 years ago. In contrast to this, the use of paper and glass, which are easily recyclable, is on the decline.
However, the most significant blow to plastic recycling was China’s refusal to import plastic trash from America during the trade war. Until 2018, the US exported millions of tons of plastic waste a year to China.
Now that restrictions have been put in place, the US has to deal with its own plastic waste even though it lacks the infrastructure for it.
But even with China’s help, experts say that plastic recycling isn’t a viable solution to the problem of plastic waste and that plastic use reduction is imperative.