Why Plastic Recycling Doesn’t Work – And 3 Things You Can Do About It
Recycling seems like an ideal response to overflowing landfills and waste disposal issues... Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
Choosing recyclable products and tossing them in the blue bin may make you feel like you’re doing your part for the environment, but recycling isn’t as perfect a solution as you may think!
Recycling seems like an ideal response to overflowing landfills and waste disposal issues: your discarded paper, plastic, metals, and glass are broken down, reformed, or repurposed to be used again. By recycling, you’re giving them new life!
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
The truth is, many recycling facilities aren’t equipped to process certain materials that instead end up in landfills or incinerators and often receive products that haven’t been sorted or cleaned properly – resulting in contaminated materials that are unable to be processed.
Discarded “recyclable” materials that can’t be processed in local facilities need to be shipped long distances to be managed - requiring energy and resources. Also, some are more expensive to breakdown and repurpose than to create new – notably plastics, which are among the most ubiquitous and problematic waste materials.
The Plastic Problem
Some plastics serve some essential functions in health and technology, but the impacts of their staggeringly high production rates and inability to be efficiently recycled or biodegrade make them more troublesome.
Not only that, unlike metals and glass which can be recycled pretty much indefinitely, plastic only has an average lifecycle of 7 times.
Some concerning statistics about plastic pollution
- Globally, we use 260 million tonnes of plastic a year.
- Canadians throw away 3 million tonnes of plastic waste each year.
- Less than 11% of plastics are recycled in Canada – (globally, it’s about 9%).
- 87% of plastics waste ends up in landfills.
- About 29,000 tonnes of Canada’s plastic waste is released into our natural environment every year.
- Plastic manufacturing accounts for approximately 8% of world oil production and is projected to rise to 20% by 2050.
- Plastic takes anywhere from 500 to 1,000 years to degrade, so anything that hasn’t been incinerated, still exists!
Plastics, and microplastics have been found in the ocean, sedimentary rock deposits, the air we breathe, in wildlife and in human bodies and scientists are scrambling to understand their effects on human health and impacts on ecosystems.
Plus, plastic production has only ramped up in the last 20 years - nearly half of all plastic ever made has been manufactured since 2000!
Living in the “Plastic Age” can feel hopeless and overwhelming – especially when recycling can’t solve the problem. There’s no denying that our climate crisis requires swift and massive systemic responses – but its empowering to know that your choices and actions matter.
We believe that if you know better, you can – and must – do better!
How you can minimize your plastic waste
1. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – It's in that order for a reason
Following this order is one of the most effective ways you can lessen your environmental impact every day. After all, the best way to reduce waste, is to avoid it in the first place!
- Ask yourself “do I need this?” when shopping. Often you can look in your own home or within your community to find items can often be reused or repurposed.
- Shop second hand and seek out local buy & sell groups in your area.
- DIY it! There are countless recipes for homemade alternatives to over-packaged foods and household products online.
- BYOB (bring your own bags) is a habit many of have taken on, but you can also choose glass over plastic, skip the flimsy plastic produce bags, avoid Styrofoam trays, and shop the bulk section.
- Check out a zero-waste shop, that allows you to reuse your containers (think mason jars, glass bottles, cotton bags and even plastic jars!) by bringing them to fill from bulk containers.
2. Choose eco-friendly products that use minimal and sustainable packaging materials.
54% of the plastic produced today is used for products that we use in our everyday routine!
It doesn’t have to be this way! Glass and paper are readily available and much more sustainable options for packaging. They last longer, can be repurposed and are not as problematic to recycle. Post-consumer recycled materials can also be used for packaging and shipping - along with innovative compostable and biodegradable products!
We love a pretty package, but also know that less can be just effective as more. So, we've sourced
- FSC-certified millboard for our packaging, a waste by-product of the paper manufacturing process that would otherwise be discarded
- 100% post-consumer recycled envelopes & boxes for shipping
- Plastic-free, recyclable kraft paper tape with a renewable and biodegradable plant-derived rubber adhesive
- Eco-friendly, 100% GreenGuard Certified stickers
Just one bar of our solid shampoo or conditioner bars can take the place of as many as 3 plastic bottles.
750 million plastic laundry jugs end up in our landfills annually – not so with our laundry strips! Every package purchased prevents a 1L plastic jug from entering a landfill!
Not only do we reduce the need for packaging with our solid bar hair care line and laundry strips – we also reduce emissions from plastic production and unnecessary resources for transporting water weight!
We’re so serious about reducing plastic on the planet, we've set the goal of preventing 50 million plastic containers from entering the waste stream by 2030!
… and we’re not alone – more and more companies are taking on the challenge of making products that are better for the planet. Check out a company’s stance on sustainable practices to make informed decisions about where your dollars go.
3. Recycle more effectively
Cleaning and sorting recyclable materials give them their best shot at being recycled. Take the extra time to thoroughly check and remove any food or product residue – even a smudge of peanut butter can contaminate a surprisingly large quantity of recyclables.
Avoid “wish-cycling” by throwing random things in the blue bin ( a leading cause of contamination!) and make sure that the items in your blue bag are recyclable in your area. You may have noticed the mobius loops on plastic packaging with numbers 1-7. These symbols only indicate the resin type of the product but doesn’t mean that they can be recycled locally.
Canadian Provincial Recycling Guide
Recycling is imperfect but important practice in managing our waste. But believing that it is the solution can distract us from important choices we need to make to protect the environment, when it has never been more important to care – and act!
Remember, you can create meaningful, lasting change, and it starts with the seemingly small decisions made every day.
Read more about our commitment to sustainability, and our Leave No Trace philosophy that guides us from formulation to shipping.
2019 study commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC)
Economic study of the Canadian plastic industry, markets and waste : summary report to Environment and Climate Change Canadahttps://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2019/eccc/En4-366-1-2019-eng.pdf
CANADA-WIDE zero waste action plan: https://ccme.ca/en/res/ccmephase2actionplan_en-external-secured.pdf
Campanale, Claudia, et.al., (2020). A Detailed Review Study on Potential Effects of Microplastics and Additives of Concern on Human Health. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Feb; 17(4): 1212. Published online 2020 Feb 13.Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7068600/
Thompson, Richard C. et al., Our plastic age. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2009 Jul 27; 364(1526): 1973–1976. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2874019/