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Recycle shoreline plastic? – crazy!

by Nikki Saluck

Many people think that disposing of plastic rubbish is as easy as bringing it to the nearest recycling bin – but the truth is there is no way we can recycle all the plastic we find and even then we can only for a very limited number of times.


First of all, the word ‘plastic’ covers a wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic materials made out of different polymers. Most of these plastic polymers are derived from fossil fuel-based chemicals.

In 2020, 400 million tonnes of plastic were produced and since 1950, the total is over 9 billion tonnes. They do not degrade after 100 years. i.e. all the plastic that we have ever created still exists. If we have incinerated it, it still exists as CO2, various pollutants and toxins in our atmosphere.


Second, you will probably have heard the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle”: but you might be unaware that these steps are meant to be practiced in chronological (hierarchical) order, stringently – meaning recycling is the absolutely the last resort, after we have reduced our consumption and reused what we can.


Third, recycling should never be the priority for any material, yet it is now becoming mainstream for our managing of plastics.

Having collected many, many kgs of shoreline plastic during The Coastline Runner initiative, we were told by one local authority to make sure we recycled what we collected. This was surprising, as the different plastic polymers of consumer litter (crisp, sweet packets, food containers, cigarette ends and dog waste bags etc) and marine litter (fishing lines, shellfish containers and boat buoys) are many. They range from polypropylene (PP) to polyethylene (PE), Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) cellulose acetate, and hundreds of toxic chemicals from lead to nicotine.


Recycling in this instance – crazy!

We are were then faced with a decision: to recycle or carry on collecting and disposing?

(You, and countless sea organisms, will be pleased to hear we collected and disposed everything we collected into the existing “binfrastructure”.)


We argue here that the focus on recycling plastics (rather than reusing or reducing them) is because of the cynical and commercial design of the plastics industry at large.

We hope you will read, and ponder as to what to do? And then tell us at https://www.instagram.com/thecoastlinerunner/

………………………..

From the point of plastics’ inception, the industry knew that it was impossible to viably recycle plastics. Larry Thomas, president of the Society of Plastics mentioned https://youtu.be/PJnJ8mK3Q3g . “if the public thinks that recycling is working then they are not going to be as concerned about the environment.”[1] They have had the public believe that recycling plastics worked – economically and environmentally – when they knew that this was not the case, then and even now.

So, the plastics industry pushed the belief that all plastics are recyclable. Everyone was encouraged to use more virgin plastic and overlook the first two ‘Rs’ – ‘reduce and reuse.’ This persists and grows. It explains, in part, why 1 million plastic water bottles are bought every one minute, around the world.


The “the resin identification code” symbol was intentionally made like to look like the recycling symbol by the plastics industry, to further the perception of plastic’s recyclability.

The polymer PVC’s resin indentification code is here. PVC is difficult to recycle.

The general recycling code is below.

The industry has searched for ways to prove that plastics could be recycled through intricate inefficient processes, such as ‘chemical recycling’ — “a process that treats difficult-to-recycle plastic waste by stripping it back to its chemical building blocks.”[2] People who work in the plastic industry support this notion as it encourages recycling rather than initially reducing and reusing the creation and consumption of plastic. However, many plastics are not recyclable in any way, “the five types of plastics — polyvinyl chloride, low-density polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, and polycarbonates — often contain toxins, carcinogens, and other pollutants and can't easily be remade into anything useful.”[1]


Ultimately, the recycling system’s validity is created by an industry’s need for us to use more virgin plastics provided, and produced, by their businesses.



Climate Town. (2020). Plastic Recycling is an Actual Scam | Climate Town. YouTube. Retrieved July 1, 2022, from https://youtu.be/PJnJ8mK3Q3g.

Rosenberg, D. R., Singla, V., & Hoover, D. (2021, July 19). Burned: Why waste incineration is harmful. NRDC. Retrieved July 10, 2022, from https://www.nrdc.org/experts/daniel-rosenberg/burned-why-waste-incineration-harmful

Schaart, E. (2020, September 17). The problem with recycling? one word: Plastics. POLITICO. Retrieved July 1, 2022, from https://www.politico.eu/article/the-problem-with-recycling-one-word-plastics/

What really happens to your plastic recycling? Greenpeace UK. (2021, April 21). Retrieved July 10, 2022, from https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/news/plastic-recycling-export-incineration/

Wilkins, M. (2018, July 6). More recycling won't Solve Plastic Pollution. Scientific American Blog Network. Retrieved July 10, 2022, from https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/more-recycling-wont-solve-plastic-pollution/

[1] Schaart, E. (2020, September 17). The problem with recycling? one word: Plastics. POLITICO. Retrieved July 1, 2022, from https://www.politico.eu/article/the-problem-with-recycling-one-word-plastics/ [1] Climate Town. (2020). Plastic Recycling is an Actual Scam | Climate Town. YouTube. Retrieved July 1, 2022, from https://youtu.be/PJnJ8mK3Q3g. [2] Schaart, E. (2020, September 17). The problem with recycling? one word: Plastics. POLITICO. Retrieved July 1, 2022, from https://www.politico.eu/article/the-problem-with-recycling-one-word-plastics/

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