The fourth myth about plastic recycling is a bit of a follow-on to the others, but in some ways, it’s the most cynical. Most people, from the casually interested consumer to the hardcore, tree-hugging dirt worshipper, would probably agree that curbside collection is a good thing, that it will reduce the amount of plastic that gets deposited in a landfill.
Unfortunately, that’s a myth.
It has to do with psychology. As plastic gets placed in curbside bins, we all feel like we’re doing the right thing by the environment. That positive glow leads us to conclude that, since it’s being recycled, it’s not necessarily a bad thing if we buy more of it. Given the actual rates of collection, it isn’t long before total use rises at a faster rate than what is being reclaimed. Combined with a fuzzy public understanding of the types of plastic that actually have a chance of being recycled, the net result is an overall increase in plastic waste.
And (it bears repeating), since the small amount of plastic that does get processed is generally made into other plastic products that are not recycled, the diversion from the landfill – or the ocean – is only a temporary one. (See recycling myth #2.)
We’re being fooled. It’s a complicated and elaborate ruse and there may be outside forces pulling the strings, but it’s hard not to say that we – as a society – are all too willing to go where we are being led.