“Do you think the industry uses recycling to sell more plastic? Absolutely.” – Plastic Wars, PBS
Loveland Magazine is one of the 400 news outlets worldwide, with a combined audience of over 2 billion people “Covering Climate Now”, a global journalism initiative committed to bringing more and better coverage to the defining story of our time.
The initiative was co-founded by The Nation and Columbia Journalism Review
Mihaela Manova is the Loveland Magazine “Covering Climate Now” Editor
ith enough free time right now to rediscover a hobby, some choose to spend it on new cooking, or even spring cleaning. But as those people participate in their new hobbies, and some begin to throw out things; others begin to collect them.
Plastic Wars, a documentary on the current pollution problem has made people turn their heads at what is thrown away while looking at the recycling industry and its good, bad, and ugly. With investigating the “battle over plastics, ” Frontline and NPR dive into an investigation over how we are managing the waste, what is going on in the recycling industry, and how the public is contributing to minimizing it. If you haven’t caught this documentary on PBS yet, you can watch it HERE.
“Bloated seabirds and littered waterways have fueled a global anti-plastic movement.”
Current news sites display headlines that describe how the COVID-19 pandemic is influencing this industry. Words like “piling,” “waste,” and “sabotage” are at the top of their Google search. More plastic waste is being produced by the jumbo packs of toilet paper that some are hoarding. Cans, cardboard, and other packaging of snacks are now loaded in the pantry before quickly consumed and thrown away. The recycling industry is at risk, for more reasons than one.
According to Wired, “First, given that plastic is oil, when oil prices fall—as they have in recent years—plastic gets cheaper to make. This corrupts the economics of recycling.” This news source continues to talk about the relations with China and how they have banned imports of plastic and mixed paper.
On top of all of that, Tom Szaky (founder/CEO of TerraCycle) confirms, “The third is what no one notices, that the quality of the waste is going down,” says Szaky. This is known as “lightweighting,” and it was happening long before the pandemic began. By making plastic bottles thinner, the manufacturer saves money by using less plastic. But, Szaky says, “it becomes progressively less profitable for a garbage company to bother recycling.”
To combat this with the pandemic and quarantine still going, you can begin to take notice of the amount of waste that piles up from the rapid purchases that you have made from your local grocery store or even packages from the mail. Consider biodegradable products as options and do not desert your recycling bin.
The Sea Turtle craze
Many of us have heard of the craze concerning the conservation of sea turtles. In the documentary, it was mentioned that there was an overwhelming awareness that a sea turtle video made upon the public and mostly, the youth. In the realm of social media platforms, influencers, instagrammers, and tik-tokers spread the word about this cause and what anyone can do to help. One of those things became the metal straw trend, where it blew up on almost all platforms.
As self-proclaimed VSCO girls donned the metal straws and used it for their aesthetic, companies were ready for them too, as many would begin to produce these straws in the help of the environment, but others claim, it was just to stay relevant.
Sketchy websites selling metal straws began to pop up on various platforms, overpricing said straws to the more than the average amount. People began building companies on the basis of this trend, which now have to find the next best thing. When building a company based on sustainability and/or biodegradable products, it is known that these efforts will continue to spread a trend for products to be produced ethically. But on the opposite side, some choose to use these trends for fast money and later fall due to the loss of interest over time.
As many know, one of the biggest companies in the market, Starbucks, has massively changed its straw policy. The Guardian discusses the change from straws to the strawless lids by saying, “But is it really a big win for the environment? Reason, a magazine and blog published by the rightwing Reason Foundation, has claimed that the Nitro lids Starbucks will be making standard use more plastic than a combination of the company’s current lids and plastic straws. Now, as many months have passed since the massive metal straw revolution, environmentalists are still concerned with the amount of plastic that is left.”
Starbucks answered with their reasoning behind this, “Starbucks does not dispute that the new lids use more plastic. However, they stress that “the strawless lid is made from polypropylene, a commonly-accepted recyclable plastic that can be captured in recycling infrastructure, unlike straws which are too small and lightweight to be captured in modern recycling equipment.”
There is more talk concerning another major chain brand revamping their packaging. McDonald’s and Starbucks are working together to develop better disposable packaging in an act of saving the environment.
Easier recycling = more money
Plastic Wars provided awareness for the process of recycling and what products are made from this process. Statistics show that 9% of the world’s plastics are recycled. The documentary mentions that soda bottles and milk jugs are easier to recycle and in turn, equate more money being produced from them. In counter to this, mixed plastics that are mostly part of our everyday packaging, do not get recycled easily and cannot be sold.
If you want to save the planet while making extra cash, items like electronics, glass bottles, and ink cartridges are most wanted. Most importantly, check your state regulations and nearby recycling stations for more information on products, rules, and offers.
Despite efforts spreading across America to reduce the use of plastic and the crisis of ocean pollution growing, the plastics industry is rapidly scaling up new production and promoting a familiar solution: recycling. But it’s estimated that no more than 10% of plastic produced has ever been recycled. The documentary “Plastic Wars,” from FRONTLINE and NPR, reveals how plastic makers for decades have publicly promoted recycling, despite privately expressing doubts that widespread plastic recycling would ever be economically viable.
Related PBS Articles: When does recycling your plastic make sense? The answer isn’t so simple: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/what-plastic-types-to-recycle/
Plastics Industry Insiders Reveal the Truth about Recycling: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/plastics-industry-insiders-reveal-the-truth-about-recycling/
To coincide with the 50th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22, April 19-26, “This time around” is the theme our the coverage of Climate Solutions.