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Unlike metal, which can be melted down and reused over and over and over again, plastic can – at most – only be recycled one time.
You throw a plastic bag or plastic container into a recycle bin and think that the job is done. Now, this plastic gets recycled and transformed and no more pollution and harm to the environment. Well, that is simply a fantasy.
Did you know that globally, only 10-15% of plastic currently gets recycled? That means 85-90% of it either ends up in the landfill or littered throughout the environment.
The World Economic Forum estimates that as much as 30% of plastic leaks out of the collection system and is unaccounted for, which means it’s scattered in your local waterway or in the ocean.
So, these plastic recycling myths will blow your mind.
Myth No. 1
What do we think of recycling a plastic bottle? Well, simply the plastic bottle we use gets melted, shredded and re-made into other useful plastic items. Right? That is wrong.
While it is true that your plastic water bottle is one of the few types of plastic that can be recycled, the quality of the plastic degrades once it’s been used. Recycled plastic is generally down-cycled into lower quality, lesser value plastic.
This means two things. First, unlike metal, which can be melted down and reused over and over and over again, plastic can – at most – only be recycled one time.
For example, your water bottle doesn’t get turned back into a new water bottle. Instead, it might become something like a non-recyclable carpet or a poly-cotton fabric such as fleece that’s also non-recyclable.
So plastic only gets recycled the one time and can’t be recycled again.
Second, because the quality of recycled plastic is lower, virgin plastic pellets must be added to the recycled pellets to create the next new plastic thing. Because of contaminants, there’s a limit to how much-recycled plastic can be used in food grade containers.
To make new yoghurt containers from recycled plastic, for example, only a portion of the plastic comes from pellets that have been recycled and the rest is new virgin plastic.
So if you want to stop the endless flow of plastic into our environment, then break out your vintage metal lunch box, carry your metal water bottle and go for those cans of beans and tuna at the grocery store.
Myth No. 2
It happens most of the time. You try tossing bright orange, purple or blue containers of laundry detergent and shampoo into the recycling when they’re empty and hoping to recycle again. But, guess what? Most likely they won’t be recycled.
Intense or dark coloured plastic is difficult if not impossible to reuse. Think of mixing paint. The darker the paint is, the more difficult to change the colour to a new colour.
Only white or natural plastic is of high enough value to bother putting it through the recycling process. Instead of being recycled, your bright colourful plastic might sit bundled up at your local recycling centre for a few days before being trucked off to the landfill or to the coast of an ocean.
Keep this in mind while shopping and if you have to use plastic, always choose items in white or clear containers. Also remember that black plastic is the most difficult colour to recycle, so if you forget to bring your own re-useable coffee cup, pick the white coloured to-go lid.
Myth No. 3
Ok, you get. Now you are thinking of using so-called Bio-degradable Plastic items. Single-use plates and utensils labelled biodegradable must be a sustainable alternative, right? Well, no. The term “biodegradable” is a misrepresentation.
Many if not most of those biodegradable plates and utensils sold as sustainable alternatives to single-use plastic aren’t really compostable or recyclable.
The idea behind bio-plastic products is that they’re supposed to break down. But truthfully, they only break down in a very high heat industrial composting facility.
For us regular people with backyard compost bins, these plates and utensils will not decompose under normal conditions.
If these products end up in a lake, river or ocean, they’re basically the same as plastic. What’s more, if you do put products labelled biodegradable or compostable into the recycle bin, they won’t be recycled because they aren’t recyclable.
NJMH is working as Deputy Conservator of Forests in Balochistan Forest & Wildlife Department (BFWD). He is the CEO of Tech Urdu (techurdu.net) Forestrypedia (forestrypedia.com), Majestic Pakistan (majesticpakistan.pk), All Pak Notifications (allpaknotifications.com), Essayspedia, etc & their YouTube Channels). He is an Environmentalist, Blogger, YouTuber, Developer & Vlogger.