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Can we recycle all of the world’s plastic, ever?

by Adarsh Modi

Can we recycle all of the world’s plastic, ever?

May 21, 2021

Pandemic is the word of the decade. Along with the current one, there is another festering in the bowels of this planet as we speak. The Plastic Pandemic.

Plastic Globe

Will we truly be able to recycle all of the plastic generated in the world?

It looks like plastic will soon win over the environment as less than 1/3rd of them are truly recyclable, which is, unfortunately, a vague figure since some plastic is stuck to food residues in dustbins. In 2018, only 9% of all plastics were recycled globally!

With China, in 2018, banning garbage imports for 99.5% pure plastic, they exposed the rubbish ring of the US exporting around 700k tonnes of plastic and paper to China to take care of it, which poses a great question: Can we recycle all of the world’s plastic, ever?

Short answer: No, since the true amount of plastic manufactured, thrown, recycled and settled on ocean beds can never truly be calculated. While China manufactures the most plastic, the US wastes the most globally, with 42 million metric tons generated in 2016 alone. India was awarded the 2nd spot. 

Plastic = Human Redundancy

Researchers have some bad news: Despite all the awareness and dangers revealed about plastic pollution, megatonnes of plastics are still being wasted annually, with much of the plastic slipping into the oceans whose numbers yet can’t be estimated properly. With the US taking the top spot of plastic waste generation, followed by India and then China, the main question which echoes at the back of our heads is if we can completely recycle all of the plastic on Earth. The answer currently is a grim No, as major developments need to be made to recycle efficiently and even curtail the use of plastic for many rather redundant necessities.

Capitalism at its best

More than half of the total single-use plastics are manufactured by no more than 20 companies. Water bottles, food packaging, and bags are some of the billion products that end up polluting the oceans every year. This information was revealed in a study done by a global consortium, including the London School of Economics. The study was spearheaded by Australia based Minderoo foundation along with market researchers Stockholm Environment Institute and Wood Mackenzie. 

The study found that the US company ExxonMobil was the single biggest producer of single-use plastics. The other handful of companies that are responsible for the majority production are Dow, Sinopec, Indorama Ventures, Saudi Aramco, PetroChina, Lyondell Basell, Reliance Industries, Braskem, Alpek SA de CV, Borealis, Lotte Chemical, INEOS, Total, Jiangsu Hailun Petrochemical, Far Eastern New Century, Formosa Plastics Corporation, China Energy Investment Group, PTT and China Resources.

It is crazy to think that only a handful of corporations are responsible for the plastic pandemic. 

How do we stop it?

So, how do we stop it? Some experts agree that the use of plastic should be drastically cut down to decrease waste by promoting the use of long term items in place of single-use products. The packaging style and wraps of many products should be replaced.

Biodegradable items for single-use, made from bamboo, sugar cane, etc., should be encouraged. Consumers can take advantage of their powers and pressurize manufacturers to reform their unsustainable habits, which can drastically cut down plastic production since we already can’t recycle the mess made.

As for the developments in recycling plastics, much can’t be done currently, as many plastics can’t be mixed and need to be separated for recycling. Another problem is the number of impurities, like dirt, food, etc. Also, the difficulties in recycling Microplastics and thin films persist.

Hence, as you read this, please look around for plastic that is worthy of recycling since many developments need to be made, else the Earth will soon drown in the suffocating seas of plastics. What other methods do you think could reduce plastic?

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