Recycling allows us to reuse the materials that have been extracted from the environment to make plastic, rather than just put them in landfills or incinerate them - which creates problems of pollution as well as being a waste of resources. However, the amount of plastic that can be recycled and that actually gets recycled is relatively low.
There are six different types of plastic - PETE (polyethylene terephthalate), HDPE (high density polyethylene), V (vinyl), LDPE (low density polyethylene), PP (polypropylene), PS (polystyrene) - and the a 7th category for other and composite types. The New Plastic Economy have put together a great infographic that outlines some of the common uses of these different plastic types.
The Ocean Conservancy has also put together a great guide on plastic types and their recyclability. It's just the right size to print out for your wallet.
The truth about recycling
According to the New Plastics Economy report:
- Only 14% of plastic packaging is actually collected for recycling and not all of it can be recycled. A lot of plastic packaging is designed for use just once.
- After sorting and reprocessing only 5% of the material collected can actually be recycled, and what is recycled often can’t be recycled the next time around because it loses some of its quality in the process.
- Even PET plastic, used in a lot of common products like water bottles, is limited in its recycling - only about half of PET is collected and only 7% of this is recycled ‘bottle-to-bottle’.
- 72% of plastic packaging isn’t recycled or reused in any way. 40% goes into landfills, and 35% either isn’t collected or doesn’t go through the system properly.
- Only 2% of plastic is actually reused by the system
Rates of recycling
According to an EPA report released last year, in 2013 the highest national recycling rate was 63%. This covered all kinds of recycling, and not just plastics.
- Austria 63%
- Germany 62%
- Taiwan 60%
- Singapore 59%
- Belgium 58%
- South Korea 49%
- UK 39%
- Italy 36%
- France 35%
- US 34%
- Australia 30%
- Canada 27%
- Japan 21%