Following our coverage of Greenpeace’s “Circular Claims Fall Flat Again” report, a communications firm representing the Association of Plastic Recyclers reached out to us. Stephen Alexander, APR President, put out this counterstatement:
“While APR is still reviewing the report, it seems that Greenpeace is ‘recycling’ a number of misleading claims. For example, Greenpeace’s claim that the rate for plastic recycling is 5% is not correct.
“When looking at plastic recycling, APR uses the amount of consumer-facing packaging produced. It appears that Greenpeace is using all plastics created as a denominator – that includes durable goods, playground equipment, railway ties, even toilet seats, that are meant to last many years as well as non-durable goods not intended for recycling such as garbage bags and other products. The plastic items that most Americans buy, use and put in their recycling bins – water and soda bottles, laundry detergent jugs, yogurt tubs – do get recycled. Consumer packaging is made mostly of PET, HDPE and PP. Based on the latest EPA data, APR recently issued a report that found that 19% this kind of plastic packaging was recycled. The latest information available for PET and HDPE bottles is from 2020 and shows a recycling rate of 28%. PP bottles have a recycling rate of 17%.”
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“APR agrees that this recycling number must be improved, and recyclers have the capacity today to increase that rate to 42% but can’t get the supply. It is unfortunate that Greenpeace and other critics of plastics use are focused on attacking the one solution to the plastic packaging sustainability problem that works: recycling.
“There will always be plastic packaging, so it is essential that it is sustainable. Recycling is the only vehicle to do this. If we want to be serious about tackling the plastic problem, we must be serious about strengthening recycling.”
While I appreciate the work Alexander and the APR are doing, I’m still skeptical that they’re going to be able to turn around an 81% non-recycling rate.
This is anecdotal, but: My wife and I recycle everything that can be recycled. I even hand-wash and air-dry the plastic film foods come wrapped in, because my local supermarket has a bin to collect it.
However, one of our dogs has a habit of getting into the neighbor’s garbage can at night. Last year I found she’d dragged a torn-open bag of this neighbor’s garbage halfway down our driveway. As I cleaned it up that morning, I saw the contents of the bag: Plastic soda bottles, aluminum beer cans, paper, cardboard–everything they discard, they put in regular trash. So everything my wife and I recycle is negated by the next household over. And they generate a lot more trash than we do.
At my local recycling center, there are large signs on the dumpsters saying “PLASTIC HERE,” “METAL HERE,” “PAPER HERE” etc. Despite this, you’ll see every dumpster is filled with bags of every material type, all of them mixed.
The recycling center is out in the middle of nowhere, not convenient at all to get to. And the people who care enough to recycle everything into bags, then drive it all the way out to the center, can’t be bothered to read the signs and properly sort it.
There’s no way my county’s unique. I really do think we’re too dumb, selfish and lazy to recycle as a society.
That being said, Alexander has more to say on the subject on his LinkedIn page.