November 10, 2022
Dear Ms. Sullivan,
Your October 24, 2022 article “Recycling Plastic Is Practically Impossible –And The Problem Is Getting Worse” undermines the recycling system that is actively diverting plastic from landfills.
The opening statement “The vast majority of plastic that people use, and in many cases put into blue recycling bins, is headed to landfills“ strongly implies that recycling facilities are sending recyclable plastics into landfills. It is vital to clarify that the recyclable plastics in the bin are being recycled. In Massachusetts, approximately 75-85% of the material in the bin is recycled and given a second life as new products. Recycling is real. MassRecycle offers facility tours to the public, including tours of Material Recovery Facilities where recycling is processed, so you can see this for yourself.
Furthermore, this story states that “…no plastic — not even soda bottles…meets the threshold to be called ‘recyclable’ … Plastic must have a recycling rate of 30% to reach that standard”, yet it excludes the Greenpeace finding that 100% of Material Recovery Facilities in the US accept plastic bottles (Table 1. on page 9 of the report). This reinforces the public misconception that recycling facilities are not processing collected materials. Recyclable plastics are not reaching a 30% recycling rate because consumers are not putting them into the bin or consumers do not have access to municipal collection. We would ask that you add this information to your article and present the reasons that plastic bottles are not reaching the threshold to be called “recyclable”.
Recycled plastic is a commodity with value. Recently, big name brands in sectors from bottled drinks to sneakers have made commitments to using recycled plastic in their products. This means recycled plastic no longer competes with virgin plastic in the market: it is desirable in its own right. More recycled plastic means less virgin plastic production. The biggest problem facing the market now is that not enough plastic bottles are being recycled.
At MassRecycle we absolutely agree that the world should use less plastic, and reuse items whenever possible. Until we reduce plastic consumption, the only disposal option for this long-lasting material is to recycle it into something new. Landfilling it or incinerating it are not better options, and in fact, are not legal in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection created Waste Bans to divert this material to a better end.
We believe in addressing the source of non-recyclable plastics: This is where Extended Producer Responsibility legislation (EPR) comes in. EPR holds producers responsible for some of the cost of disposing their products, which incentivizes the production of recyclable products. MassRecycle has a dedicated committee devoted to advancing EPR: the Massachusetts Product Stewardship Council.
Lastly, we ask that all media talk to the recycling industry, or any organization like MassRecycle that intimately understands recycling, and ask how to make the system better. Discouraging the public from recycling means more plastic ends up as trash, and that is the worst-case scenario for this ubiquitous material.
Please do not destroy faith in a system that is working; recycled plastic stays out of landfills.