Unpacking Plastics & Recycling

Plastics play a prominent role in almost every industry and are practically inescapable.

Introduced and popularized in the 1950s, plastics have become the backbone of every industry. Plastics are the de-facto packaging and can be found in items throughout our homes. 


“In less than 100 years of popularized use, over 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic have been cumulatively produced, with the annual global production averaging at roughly 380 million metric tons.”(Earth Day)


A rapidly growing proportion of all municipal solid waste, humankind is producing plastic faster than we can figure out what to do with it. 


That’s why initiatives like Plastic Free July are more important than ever, as they prioritize finding accessible and cost-effective solutions to plastic waste. 

Recycling: An Overview 

Historically, the solution to plastic waste has been recycling, a phenomenon that rose to prominence in the 1990s. When thought of simply, recycling is the process of sorting plastic products so that they can be repurposed and reconstituted. In theory, recycling is a catch-all solution to rising levels of plastic consumption; however, the real-world mechanics of recycling are less than optimal. 


Recycling is one of the processes that makes our waste “disappear”, putting it out of sight and out of mind. Recycling is an increasingly globalized process, with different countries processing the plastics produced and consumed elsewhere.


Misinformation on the efficacy of recycling has further promoted sloppy recycling on the part of the average consumer. When consumers recycle plastic products that have come into contact with food waste, that entire batch of recycling becomes contaminated and cannot be added to the larger recycling process. 


Products like greasy pizza boxes, plastic bags and (yes) dirty diapers are often found contaminating the recycling process and sending more plastics to landfills. 


Though they seem like objects that ought to be recyclable, adding them to your single stream recycling increases the likelihood of that batch ending up in the landfill. A far from perfect system, recycling has a long way to go as domestic recycling pathways are being forced to grow and reduce their dependence on foreign recycling operations.

Playing your part in keeping recycling clean is just one way humankind can combat the growing issue of plastic waste and its ecological impacts.

For tips and tricks on how to reduce your plastic consumption and learn more about the global movement to eliminate plastic waste, visit PlasticFreeJuly.org.



Why the world's recycling system stopped working | Financial Times

Simple list of what can and cannot be recycled | Eco Scraps

6 Things You're Recycling Wrong | New York Times

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