Let’s talk about plastic. Before we dive into the nitty-gritty, I have a question for you. At the store, do you choose paper or plastic? Have you ever wondered, “does it actually matter?”
If you have, then you’re in the right place.
I know many people opt not to choose paper or switch to metal straws over plastic ones because they don’t truly believe recycling is helping anything.
“It all goes to the same place anyway.”
Well, does it?
Let’s find out.
Recycling in the U.S.
For as long as most of us can remember, recycling has been a prevalent conversation, and for a good reason. There are a ton of environmental factors that affect the decision to recycle (which we’ll touch on in a bit) that started the conversation initially. In fact, most of what we know of the initiatives today were movements that began in the 1970s. So, with this issue around for so long — 50 years, to be exact — everything should be all solved and dandy, right?
I wish that were the case.
Plastic use is still alive and well, despite the efforts to reduce the use through recycling. It comes down to consumers and how they choose to manage the problem in their daily lives.
With Americans and people worldwide pushing for green alternatives to common products, more and more companies have been adopting sustainable production solutions. At ZOX, we’re doing our best to solve the problem by using recycled plastic water bottles to make each Strap (and reusable bags). However, there are still questions on how much help we’re doing because we’re still using plastic, even though it’s recycled.
You’re right: recycling plastic won’t solve the problem entirely. But there are ways to minimize the issue.
What is the issue?
For a while there, the U.S. was doing a pretty good job in handling recyclables. By that I mean, we were exporting them to China.
For decades, China was handling most of the world’s recycling because “its manufacturing sector was booming and needed these materials to feed it,” Renee Cho with the Earth Institute reported. However, in 2018, China banned the import of most recyclable materials, which stalled the U.S.’s recycling programs progress. “Because U.S. recycling was dependent on China for so many years, our domestic recycling infrastructure was never developed, so there was no economical or efficient way to handle recycling when the market disappeared” (Cho 2020).
After China’s ban on recyclable imports, many American recycling plants began to“[separate] “mixed plastics” from those plastics which still retain value – such as water bottles, laundry detergent bottles, and milk jugs – and, contrary to what customers expect, sending them directly to a landfill or incinerator,” an investigation by The Guardian found. The production of recycled items depends on whether or not the American consumer is purchasing recycled goods. If more people purchase recycled items, it’s more likely recycling plants will churn out recyclables. It’s simply a matter of supply and demand.
By choosing to purchase plastic items that have already been recycled, you’re preventing plastic from ending up in the wrong places.
Where’s the plastic going & how can we help?
According to the Ocean Conservancy, “every year, 8 million metric tons of plastics enter our ocean on top of the estimated 150 million metric tons that currently circulate our marine environments.”
80% of ocean plastic comes from land-based sources, which are generated from 192 coastal countries. While China is the world’s leading producer of ocean plastic, the United States isn’t too far behind. In fact, the United States is the second-largest plastic waste producer at 38 million tons per year. There’s so much waste produced from plastic items, and if they’re not being recycled, then they’re ending up in landfills (which is another pollution conversation for another time), or they’ve swept away beneath the sea.
Think of what that’s doing to ocean wildlife.
Each year, 100 million sea animals are found dead from plastic waste. 100,000 of that number are found entangled in plastic netting, wrappers, or baskets.
The oceans are suffering. Our marine wildlife is suffering. But we can help.
There are two viable solutions to how we fix this issue:
We cut back on plastic use altogether.However, while this would eliminate a massive problem, it would be a much harder situation to tackle on a global scale. It would also leave us with a huge mess of dealing with the plastic items that haven’t been disposed of properly thus far.
We start to recycle more. The recycled plastic would become more valuable because we could reuse it at a lower cost than producing new plastic. Currently, new plastic costs less, which makes it a waste item. By bringing these costs down, we can turn plastic into a resource to be reused, which means that companies, governments, and consumers will be more incentivized to clean the oceans directly. Currently, the benefits are more abstract, which leads to no one taking charge.
We can change that mindset.
The primary solution is more than just recycling: it’s also purchasing goods made from recycled materials.Cut back on new plastics by buying only items with plastic if they’ve been recycled. If you’re disposing of your ZOX, cut the wristband and sort it into recycling. Ensure that your recycled items aren’t dirtied before placing them in the bin. Otherwise, they will be sent to a landfill or burned… or dropped below the waves.
Search out companies that are actively working to make sustainable changes to their product manufacturing. At ZOX, we’re using recycled materials and working to make recycled materials the norm in production. By being here, you’re already taking steps to change.
Your impact with ZOX
Premade plastic items will never fully leave our planet. At least by recycling it, we can give it new life, help foster innovation, and help keep our planet clean.
Only 9% of plastic is ever recycled even once. Despite that, there's such a massive supply of recycled plastics with such little demand that China has shut down imports for further recycling. By putting demand on the supply of recycled plastics, we're hoping to ensure more plastics are recycled.
Currently, recycled plastic costs more than new plastic. Unfortunately, that's part of why the demand for recycled plastics is so low. Most companies value profits over sustainability. Innovation comes over time and from companies actively improving their processes. If there's no demand for recycled plastics, companies will have less demand to fulfill, which means less chance to improve and get costs down. To us, it paints a clear picture: We as a planet will continue to have a plastic problem until the price of recycling plastics drops below that of making new plastics. As a business, we have the opportunity to be a part of the solution. We can pay more for materials that are already in existence. By recycling, we're creating 0 new waste.
Overall, the situation isn't great. And that's a huge bummer. But, by working to create a more circular economy, we're hoping that things will change.
We want to clean up our environment.
Will you join us?
BusinessWire. “Global Recycled Plastics Market 2020-2024 | Rising Demand for Recycled Plastics from the Packaging Industry to Boost Market Growth | Technavio.”BusinessWire, 2020, https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20200220005559/en/.
Center for EcoTechnology. “What is the National Sword?”CET, 2018, https://www.centerforecotechnology.org/what-is-the-national-sword/.
Cho, Renee. “Recycling in the U.S. is Broken: How Do We Fix It?”State of the Planet, Columbia University, March 13 2021, https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2020/03/13/fix-recycling-america/.
Ritchie, Hannah, and Max Roser. “Plastic Pollution.”Our World in Data, 2018, https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution#citation.
Schupska, Stephanie. “New Science Paper Calculates Magnitude of Plastic Waste Going into the Ocean.” UGA Today, 2015, https://news.uga.edu/new-science-paper-magnitude-plastic-waste-going-into-ocean-0215/.