Does recycling help with plastic pollution?


With the world being more eco-conscious, we become more aware of the issues we have. Plastic pollution. Two small words that can actually cause great complications in our modern world. What is plastic pollution and why does it impose such dangers? And does all the recycling I am doing now helping? Does recycling really help with plastic pollution? There is just so many questions and uncertainty with plastic pollution and recycling. If you want to find out more about plastic pollution and recycling, just keep on reading.

Plastic Pollution Overview

Piles of Plastic Waste/Pollution
Plastic pollution is simply the accumulation of plastic material and particles for example plastic bottles, bags and boxes in the earth’s environment. This accumulation adversely affects humans, wildlife, and wildlife habitats.

Nowadays, plastic pollution can be found anywhere, from beaches that are meant to add to the scenic beauty to the uninhabited tropical islands. Below are some distressing facts and figures that can send chills down your spine and show you how widespread pollution has become.

In the figure we summarize global plastic production to final fate over the period 1950 to 2015.5

  • Cumulative production of polymers, synthetic fibers and additives was 8300 million tons;
  • 2500 million tons (30 percent) of primary plastics was still in use in 2015;
  • 4600 million tons (55 percent) went straight to landfill or was discarded;
  • 700 million tons (8 percent) was incinerated;
  • 500 million tons (6 percent) was recycled (100 million tons of recycled plastic was still in use; 100 million tons was later incinerated; and 300 million tons was later discarded or sent to landfill)

(Ritchie and Roser)
So, with this rapid increase in plastic pollution, it also became crucial to increase the implementation of methods directed at controlling the disastrous effects produced by plastic pollution.

This is when the process of recycling comes into play. Recycling basically prevents the emissions of many greenhouse gases and water pollutants and also saves energy. Consequently, it plays an essential role in preserving the environment and assists in countering the deadly impacts of plastic pollution.

Recycling and Plastic Pollution

Cleaning up plastic waste
Recycling can help with plastic pollution. Especially in reducing plastic pollution when done properly. In addition to proper recycling, it is the mindset that comes with recycling that can help reducing plastic pollution.

How can recycling help reduce the effects of plastic pollution?

Well because recycling only requires individuals to think a little more intellectually and productively and is a common-sense task, the answer is quite simple. Once you start thinking twice before throwing a bag of chips or using a plastic straw instead of a metal straw, the complexity of this question will further ease. So let us say that you as an individual have decided to have a more sustainable approach towards the environment for a week or two, to observe the impacts it will have on your lifestyle. The first thing that you might do is reduce your shopping. So when you will choose to recycle your old clothes you will actually contribute to the environment positively. This is due to the fact making a new product requires a lot of material and energy. Raw materials are extracted from the earth, the product is fabricated and then transported to the required site, and all of these processes require plastic at one point or another. Then for packing processes even more plastic will be used. After being used this plastic will be dumped in nearby landfills, waterways or oceans and add to the already devastating amount of plastic. Consequently, when people will become keener on recycling the demand for manufacturing will decline and so will the rate of plastic pollution. So, by recycling your own clothes not only did you manage to protect the environment but also saved a good amount of money. A win win situation isn’t it?

More Recycling Less Plastic Pollution

The usage of recycled material for manufacturing products can be especially beneficial to help reduce plastic pollution. This is because when manufacturing companies will work with the used objects, the waste material will actually be used for a good cause, instead of getting dumped in a nearby lake or river. This will also mean that no plastic will be used in the process of obtaining raw material, hence presenting little to no risks of pollution caused by that company.

So, using recycled material will not only generate less solid waste but will also reduce pollution caused as a result of extracting and processing virgin materials. Moreover, when the products are made utilizing recycled materials instead of using virgin materials, fewer pollutants will be emitted, which will further play their role in controlling plastic pollution.

Is recycling the only way out?

Recycling bottles to avoid plastic pollution
While the success of recycling methods in countering the growing disastrous effects of plastic pollution cannot be debated upon, it would be highly unintellectual to believe that it is the only solution that can be solely dependent upon to eliminate this issue. The truth is that the idea of recycling to save the environment from the ravaging effects of plastic pollution, maybe equivalent to hammering a nail to hinder the falling of skyscraper. This is because of the fact that while recycling may be an incredibly efficient way to deal with the plastic problem, it distracts one from the real issue. We become so focused on finding solutions and alternatives that we forget the actual problem in the process, the reason why the building is collapsing in the first place, which diverts our attention from working to stop the production of plastic altogether.

Hence even though, taking initiatives in recycling is fundamental to counter plastic pollution, it is not the only way out. We have only managed to recycle 9 percent of plastic ever produced and will never be able to recycle ourselves out of this problem (Geyer et al.). Even if we increase this percentage five-fold, half of the global plastic will still remain not recycled (Geyer et al.). In order to really assist with putting this problem to an end and to win a decisive battle against plastic pollution, we need to imprison the very idea of producing single-use plastic like grocery bags, which we very recklessly use.

What is our responsibility?

Being the significant members of this vast ecosystem, it is obligated on every one of us to come forward to protect it from harmful agents that are threatening the sustainability of our environment. The most impactful decision we can make today and right now is to inculcate a sense of accountability in ourselves. To measure and pounder over the complications that we as individuals have contributed to in our environment. That is to focus on recycling as well as working to eradicate the need for recycling. Together we can prove our estimated statistics wrong, the production of 320 million tonnes of plastic that is suspected to double by 2034 can be reduced easily, if only we act promptly (Plastic Pollution – Facts and Figures • Surfers Against Sewage

Geyer, Roland, Jenna R. Jambeck, and Kara Lavender Law. “Production, Use, and Fate of All Plastics Ever Made.” Science Advances. American Association for the Advancement of Science, 01 July 2017. Web. 28 Oct. 2020.
“Plastic Pollution – Facts and Figures • Surfers Against Sewage.” Surfers Against Sewage. Web. 28 Oct. 2020.
Ritchie, Hannah, and Max Roser. “Plastic Pollution.” 01 Sept. 2018. Web. 28 Oct. 2020.
Author: Monica Chang
On my own ethical journey since 2010. Always happy to learn more!