The planet’s natural resources are worth investing towards a better future

To Transform the Plastic Crisis: Invest in Local Recycling Infrastructure, Globally

(This is part of the series for 7 Main Areas of Focus to Transform the Plastic Crisis)

Using the recycling process and technologies today and saying recycling doesn't work, is like using a Commodore 64 today and saying computers don’t work.

We can’t rely on recycling using the ways recycling systems work today — they’re not. Only 9% of all plastics have ever been recycled — that should be evidence for anybody to recognize it’s not working. Does this mean we throw our hands-up, declare an entire industry should be shut-down and give-up? Not so fast.

  • Preventing revenue that would be earned by recycling and re-selling a product that we already paid to “import,”
  • Increasing our carbon footprint by sending “waste” across the world,
  • Stalling overall economic growth gained from products that are Made in the USA,
  • A possible GDP growth in the trillions according to Accenture if we implemented a fully sufficient and circular waste management system.

How did we normalize not being able to recycle our own plastic resources?

Why do the US and the West have to care about waste, plastic and recycling?

  • Polluted cities and increased diseases — clogged storm drains aren’t just costly for taxpayers to clean up, they also collect water and cause the increase of bacteria and diseases, especially in third world countries
  • Environmental damage — while paper/cardboard results in cutting down extra trees, plastics result in polluting waterways, seas, soil, and the ocean
  • Others… there are many more consequences that we’ve somehow normalized in our modern age — such as higher taxes, emitting excess carbon, loss of labor and jobs, etc.

Plastic is a valuable material made from expensive, irreplaceable natural resources and added time, effort, and money.

Using plastic for single-use temporary applications is like using gold or diamonds as gravel — not unheard-of but still wasteful and not the intended application. And somehow we’ve made it “normal” to throw it “away.” It is actually more valuable than glass — yet glass while causing sorting facilities to lose money have one of the highest recycling rates.

  • Recycle, not just sort, plastics 1 through 7 — China handled over 50% of the world’s plastics. This is just for recyclable plastics (#1, 2, 5). The other half was somewhere between landfill, loss to the environment and processed locally. Again, plastic is a valuable resource not meant for single-use.
  • Invest in technologies that make it possible to recycle all materials — recycling technologies haven’t seen any ground-breaking innovations since the 70s. There are technologies that have been invented, just not implemented or scaled due to lack of funding. One such technology Newtecpoly (aka Plastech Australia) enables a mix of low-grade plastics (or high-quality for that matter), to be recycled with up to 30% contamination and turned into a highly durable plastic — most useful for long-term applications — docking, piers, roads, railings, piping, etc.
  • Invest in Chemical Recycling — Though this is part of investing into technologies, chemical recycling also shows added benefit of creating “raw” plastic material from a mix of plastics or truly recycling the material into its original state. For instance, a new company Biocellectionis targeting to turn mainly film plastic into its original molecular form to be reused in place of petroleum in creating new plastic material. Recycling Technologies — based in England they can take PET plastics and turn them into an oil-like substance called “Plaxx” that can be used in making food-grade plastics. (Clarification once again — we’re not suggesting that recycling should enable the continued use of single use plastics, rather we suggest that today’s available technologies are used responsibly to recycle alternatives).
  • Invest in innovative technologies that currently exist to use recycled plastics in various public improvement projects like roads, sidewalks, walls etc.
  • Invest in developing countries — there are many smaller scale solutions that can apply and benefit developing countries quickly, reducing the amount of waste that is going into the waterways.
  • Implement policies for minimial recycled content contracts — if all governments and businesses, especially developers, had a minimal recycled content requirement the market would boom. Imagine a project where all waste-water pipes in a high-rise, or all parking markers and dividers in closed garages are made of recycled plastics.

Ocean Actionist. Circular Economy Consultant. Reuse and Plastic recycling SME. Entrepreneur. Speaker. Underwater Photographer. NYC.

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