The existence of plastic waste caught up in ocean currents causing harm to wildlife, speaks to the importance of a continued global discussion regarding the use and disposal of commercial plastics.
Aggregate plastic production and management trends in the United States read fairly easy. Recent EPA plastic recycling statistics show an increase from the baseline zero plastic recycling in 1970, to the 2010 high of 8.3% of total waste plastic recycled.
Generally plastic recycling rates tend to lag behind other material recycling rates, due in part to plastic's multiple uses, not all of which easily lend themselves to recycling.
From a consumer perspective, plastic recycling ranks as one of the more complicated recycling tasks. Consider the two pictures in the box.
Types of Plastics
The top picture of a plastic recycling bin contains the words, Plastics Recycling, and neglects to state the types of acceptable plastics.
Because recycling centers accept different types of plastics, recycling bins that accept all plastics often contain unwanted plastic materials.
Picture two contrasts nicely with picture one, showing a plastic recycling bin that provides little opportunity for plastic recycling confusion. It is clearly marked for plastic bottles with a #1 PETE stamp on them, referring to the plastic bottles commonly used for beverages.
The chart at the top of the page compares the 2010 plastic bottle waste stream, consisting of three-quarters water and pop bottles (PET or #1 SPI code) and one-quarter milk jugs (HDPE or #2 SPI code).
While simple and straightforward, the chart hides some of plastic recycling complexity. PLA bottles, for example, corn based plastic bottles marketed as commercial compost friendly, recently celebrated their market introduction.
While aggregate PLA waste statistics remain asterisks in current recycling data sets, increased production and use of PLA bottles could influence future recycling data sets as well as the plastic bottle recycling industry (problems mixing corn based and oil based plastics during recycling process).
Additional plastic recycling complexity results from the multiple plastic recycling categories and subcategories used as industry standards.
Generally, plastics recycling divides into three categories (durable goods, nondurable goods and containers/packaging). Two examples, one each from the nondurable goods and containers/packaging categories are presented to demonstrate some of plastic recycling complexity.
PET and HDPE bottles, the topic of the first chart, fit into the container/packaging category, subcategory bottles and jars.
The types of aggregate plastic bottle recycling statistics portrayed in the first chart interest industry and policy makers. Yet it appears that simpler recycling choices interest average consumers.
Trash bags, another plastic subcategory situated in the larger nondurable goods category, get divided between bags composed of HDPE materials and bags composed of LDPE/LLDPE materials.
High-density polyethylene (HDPE), the same material used for milk jugs, also serves as the primary plastic type for the popular t-shirt shopping bag.
Plastic bag recycling issues continue to resonate in local communities, partly because they constitute such a large portion of the plastic waste stream.
Community approaches for managing plastic bag use and disposal vary, but all generally agree that changing current consumer plastic bag habits saves natural resources and promotes energy conservation.
Retail solutions vary, with some stores placing readily available plastic bag recycling bins on their property. Other retailers label recycling requests on the shopping bags.
Public approaches to plastic bag ordnances also differ, with some cities proposing use and disposal bans and other cities requiring a fee for their use.
Combining the plastic bottle and plastic bag statistics and stories, one might conclude that the complexities associated with industry recycling categories and subcategories have the potential to confuse the average American plastic recycler.
The article entitled Types of Plastics provides further descriptions of industry plastic standards along with some aggregate plastic waste statistics.
© 2002-2012 Patricia A. Michaels.