The Problems with Plastic
Sustainability

The Problems with Plastic

Petroleum-based plastics pollute the Earth on a massive scale

  • They are manufactured from 20 different petroleum-based resins with 20 different levels of recyclability and toxicity
  • They can only be recycled after being properly sorted by resin type
  • The sorting is often inaccurate and labor-intensive
  • Only 6.8% of the plastic waste is actually recovered for recycling
  • The remaining 93.2% of discarded plastic (over 30 million tons each year in the U.S. alone) is sent to landfills or incinerated

Conventional plastics are manufactured from 20 different petroleum-based resins with 20 different levels of recyclability and toxicity. When discarded, plastic products can only be recycled if they are first sorted by resin type. This sorting is an imperfect and labor-intensive process that results in an average plastic recycling rate at U.S. municipal solid waste facilities of only 8%. The remainder of discarded plastic – nearly 30 million tons each year – is sent to landfills and incinerators.1


Plastics do not disappear from our environment when they are sent to landfills and incinerators. Debris escapes from landfills. Smoke and ash escape from incinerators. The resulting pollution and toxins that plastics contribute to our environment by way of landfills and incinerators then combine with the pollution and toxins that plastics contribute directly by way of litter. A 2009 study by Keep America Beautiful, Inc. found that 19.3% of roadside waste was plastic, resulting in an average of 1,300 pieces of plastic litter beside every mile of roadway throughout the United States.2

Plastic litter does not wait patiently on roadsides either. Plastic is uniquely able to travel on currents of air and water for thousands of miles and generally ends these journeys as ocean pollution. The vast majority of the ocean’s litter begins on land (80%). Moreover, the vast majority of the ocean’s litter is plastic (also 80%), and half of that plastic floats.


Learn more about the specifics of plastics, and the damage that they cause

 

Written by

World Centric

 

Read time

3 minutes

 

Published on

Dec 2, 2017

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