OK… time for the second recycling myth. I alluded to it in the last post, but let’s address it again a little more fully. There is an acceptance, by most people anyway, that items placed in a recycling bin actually get recycled. That “recycling” means that the item will come back again, in much the same form it had before. With things like glass bottles and aluminum cans, this is pretty straightforward. These kinds of containers are actually reprocessed into new containers that are very similar to what they once were.
With plastic, it’s a whole other story. Most plastic items (types 3 – 7, remember) often simply get thrown into the landfill. But, and here’s the secret part, even the things that get remade are “downcycled.” Take a plastic water bottle… if it actually gets recycled, it doesn’t come back as another water bottle, it comes back as a secondary product, like a parking lot bumper or a plank of plastic lumber. These products are not recyclable so, what has happened – and remember, this is a best-case scenario – is that the trip to the landfill has just been delayed a bit.
None of this in any way reduces the use of virgin materials that go into plastic packaging. All the resources that were going to be used get used. “Recycled” simply becomes a synonym for “collected,” which isn’t what it was supposed to mean at all.