empty plastic containers

What is Precious Plastic?

Why Recycle Plastic?

Most of the plastic used for food and product packaging ends up in landfills, especially in the United States. According to the EPA, 26.8 million tons of plastic ended up in US landfills in 2017. That's 75.8% of the estimated plastic waste generated in the country that year.¹

The PEW Charitable Trusts report that 11 million metric tons of plastic waste enters our oceans every year.²

Why Do We Have So Much Plastic Waste?

Most plastic is made from crude oil. Oil refinement starts by distilling the crude material into several fractions and residues. One of these, naphtha, is then refined into plastics.³ Other fractions include gasoline, kerosene, and diesel.4 That means the more gasoline we produce, the more naphtha there is for creating plastic. In short, our oil-dependency makes plastics pretty cheap to produce. It is, however, harder to recycle.

What's Up with Recycling Programs?

In theory, we have large-scale recycling programs to handle plastic waste. In reality, many of those programs don't actually recycle plastic. And while plastic takes an extremely long time to biodegrade, the integrity of recycled plastics is not so resilient. Your plastic water bottle is "food-safe" now, but it may not be once melted down and remolded. For many years we sold plastic waste to China where it was processed and used as raw materials for cheap textiles and similar products. They stopped accepting it in 2018.5 Some US cities resorted to burning their collected recyclables6 instead of actually recycling them. It can be hard to tell what actually happens to your recyclable waste, even if you take the time to dispose of it properly.

So the System is Broken. What Can I Do?

There's not one simple solution, but there are many things you can do to help.

  1. Keep Recycling

    Demand is a powerful metric. The higher the demand for recycling programs, the easier it is for City governments to validate spending on recycling programs with actual data. It may feel pointless now, but continuing to recycle could help fix the system in the future.

  2. Do Some Research

    Every area is different, so you'll have to do the legwork yourself. Look into private recycling programs, or check for Precious Plastic partners in your area. 

  3. Buy Products with Responsible Packaging

    Eco-conscious companies are becoming more prominent, and many of them offer subscription plans. Several companies offer plastic-free soaps and cleaners, as well as recycled or bamboo-based paper products with plastic-free packaging. You can also ditch traditional shampoo and body wash for bars. I'll share my experience of finding plastic-free products here soon.

  4. Go For the Cans

    Bottled water is an especially big problem when it comes to plastic waste. Go for the canned water instead. Metals are much easier to recycle and are gaining traction in the water industry. You can also buy water in a carton.

  5. Get Involved

    If you can't find anything in your area, start something new. Talk to your representatives about a recycling program, or find a local maker that may want to start a new project. Check out the Precious Plastic Bazar for parts, kits, and other resources to help get started.

Do what you can, and encourage others to do the same.

¹"Facts and Figures about Materials, Waste and Recycling" EPA, Sept. 12, 2017
²"Breaking the Plastic Wave: Top Findings for Preventing Plastic Pollution" PEW Trusts, July 23, 2020
³ "How Plastics Are Made" Plastics Europe
4 "Chemicals from Oil" S-Cool
5 "U.S. Recycling Industry Is Struggling To Figure Out A Future Without China" NPR, Aug. 20, 2019
6 "China is refusing to take 'foreign garbage' from the US, so these 6 cities are burning or throwing away your recycling" Business Insider, May 28, 2019

Categories: Precious Plastic

A maker of things and lover of nature, Heather founded The Mad Dollar to share her creations and help people learn how to be more eco-friendly.

Leave a comment