Stop recycling plastic. Yes, I said it. As someone who was a very early recycler wanting to protect the planet from non-degrading plastic pollution, it has been hard for me to get here. So why do I now advocate for throwing plastic in the garbage?

The answer is that recycling never really did what it was supposed to do in the first place. In the 35 or so years that recycling has been mainstream, only about 10% of plastics have ever been recycled. There are seven "resin identification codes" printed in the tiny triangles stamped on many plastic items, but only two to three types are typically recycled. Yet many people toss all types of plastics into the recycling bins in the “hope” that they are doing good. But that means that the non-recyclable items must me manually removed at material recovery facilities (known as MRFs, or "merfs"). And then, since China stopped buying our recyclables around 12 years ago, they are shipped on open barges to Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia on open barges where 10% or more is leaked or dropped into the ocean on the way. Much of the rest of the shipments end up in illegal trash dumps in Southeast Asia, where they are burned and spew toxins into the air.

But before that even happens, think of all the trucks sent to pick up your plastic recycling that spew diesel fumes into the air. And in Montclair, if you drop off your plastic recycling at the dump, you place it in the back of an older garbage truck that is left idling all day so it can pull the plastic in when the back gets full. Isn’t that just trading one type of pollution for another?

But here’s the worst part. The whole concept of recycling was invented by the plastics industry to counter the push back against single-use plastic back in the 1980s. The Council for Solid Waste Solutions was created by the plastics industry in 1988 to assuage concerns about pollution and sell more plastic.

In short, we’ve been had. And if we are to be honest with ourselves, we must realize that recycling may cause more harm than just throwing it away.

Philip Schertz


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