Recycling won’t solve plastic crisis, report finds

A new report says that recycling methods alone won’t eradicate plastic pollution.

A new report says that recycling methods alone won’t eradicate plastic pollution.

Published by Filipino public interest network Eco Waste Coalition on Wednesday, July 21, the review outlines how ineffective advanced recycling methods such as chemical recycling, waste-to-energy and pyrolysis prove in tackling the plastic waste problem.

‘Plastic Waste Management Hazards: Waste-to-Energy, Chemical Recycling and Plastic Fuels’ argues that the previously mentioned ‘solutions’ to the plastic crisis come with their own environmental drawbacks, as the technologies in question result in the production of hazardous chemicals.

As such, the Coalition advocates for a reduction in plastic production, urging the manufacturing industry to limit the use of plastic where not absolutely necessary.

Lee Bell, a co-author of the report as well as Policy Adviser on Persistent Organic Pollutants for International Pellet Watch (IPEN), said: “No current management method for plastic waste is capable of alleviating the world’s expanding plastic pollution crisis. All methods generate significant toxic hazards because of the toxic additives that are a component of most plastic products. Industry’s championing of various recycling schemes is a marketing ploy designed to fend off plastic regulation and efforts to curb an escalating plastic pollution problem.”

“The only solution to the plastic waste piling up in our communities and oceans is to limit plastic production to essential uses and eliminate the use of toxic chemicals in plastics,” he emphasized.

One recycling method touted as a potential solution to plastic waste is chemical recycling. This approach, however, can be very polluting. For every tonne of plastic treated via this method, three tonnes of CO2 are released into the atmosphere. The toxicants produced through said form of recycling also include cancer-causing, endocrine- and immune disrupting dioxins and furans. Noteworthy in this sense is also the fact that chemical recycling can’t tackle the microplastic problem, the term referring to plastics either intentionally manufactured on a small scale such as pellets or weathered down into smaller pieces from larger plastic products. Here, again, the report advocates for possible production restrictions.

Eco Waste Coalition posits sustainable design that takes a product’s life cycle into consideration as a way to counteract plastic proliferation, with recycling not meant to substitute but supplement said process, enforced by a functional political and regulatory system.

By 2050, on a global scale, 1800 million tonnes of plastic will be produced while 900 million tonnes of plastic will be incinerated.