‘Vast Quantities’ of Recycled Plastics Are Actually Burned Or Dumped In Landfills

“A Guardian investigation reveals that cities around the country are no longer recycling many types of plastic dropped into recycling bins. Instead, they are being landfilled, burned or stockpiled…”
An anonymous reader shared this eye-opening report from the Guardian. “From Los Angeles to Florida to the Arizona desert, officials say, vast quantities of plastic are now no better than garbage…”
As municipalities are forced to deal with their own trash instead of exporting it, they are discovering a dismaying fact: much of this plastic is completely unrecyclable. The issue is with a popular class of plastics that people have traditionally been told to put into their recycling bins — a hodgepodge of items such as clamshell-style food packaging, black plastic trays, take-out containers and cold drink cups, which the industry dubs “mixed plastic”. It has become clear that there are virtually no domestic manufacturers that want to buy this waste in order to turn it into something else.

Take Los Angeles county, the most populous in America. The Guardian has learned that recycling facilities are separating “mixed plastics” from those plastics which still retain value — such as water bottles, laundry detergent bottles and milk jugs — and, contrary to what customers expect, sending them directly to a landfill or incinerator. Los Angeles county public works estimates that in 2018, the county sent more than half a million tons of plastic to four different landfills, and nearly 20,000 tons of plastic to its waste-to-energy incinerator. And it appears that many other recyclers are doing exactly the same thing…

“Most people have no idea that most plastic doesn’t get recycled,” said John Hocevar, the Oceans Campaign Director for Greenpeace USA, referencing a study which found that just 9% of all plastic ever produced has been recycled. “Even though they are buying something that they only use for a few seconds before putting it in the recycling bin, they think it’s OK because they believe it is being recycled.”
The Guardian concludes that Americans “continue to throw away millions of tons of plastic each year, even as they run out of ways to dispose of it.” But there’s also an interesting observation from Coby Skye, the assistant deputy director of environmental programs at Los Angeles county public works: that it’s never been possible to recycle some plastics that Americans were putting into their recycling bins.

“[China] would just pull out the items that were actually recyclable and burn or throw away the rest. China has subsidized the recycling industry for many years in a way that distorted our views.”

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