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The real truth about the U.S. recycling rate

„The Last Beach Cleanup“ and „Beyond Plastics“ recently released a report titled "The Real Truth About the United States' Plastic Recycling Rate: 2021 U.S. Facts and Figures," which analyzed data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and plastic waste exports and found that the recycling rate in 2021 was 5.6%. According to the research, this figure might be much lower because it does not account for additional losses that were not taken into account, such as plastic waste gathered under the guise of "recycling" but ultimately incinerated. Prior to this publication, the EPA's most recent recycling rate in the United States was 8.7% in 2020, based on data from 2018. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the US Department of Energy recently verified that the plastic trash recycling rate in 2019 will be 5%.

Recycling of plastics is a broken system.

Despite the fact that the plastics industry continues to promote recycling as a solution to our plastic pollution problem, evidence reveals that recycling plastic has never succeeded. Furthermore, the recycling rate continues to decline.

Non-recycled plastic products are disposed of in landfills, burned, or end up in our environment at a significantly higher rate. Plastic recycling contributes to the worldwide plastic pollution challenge and places a burden on countries who lack the facilities to manage plastic trash exported by countries such as the United States.

According to EPA data, the United States' plastic recycling rate peaked in 2014 at 9.5 percent, which is still abysmally low, and did not include items exported to other countries. Furthermore, because there is no demand for recovered plastics when virgin resins are plentiful and inexpensive, recycling rates are expected to plummet even further. If other countries follow China's lead and prohibit the import of plastic waste, less plastic waste will be shipped throughout the world.

Using Real-World Solutions

The plastic business promotes the idea that recycling is a false answer. We need real solutions that address the source of the plastic pollution catastrophe. The Surfrider Foundation promotes actual solutions such as single-use plastic bans, systemic improvements targeted toward refill/reuse systems, and complete policies that address plastic pollution holistically. Plastics are toxic throughout their entire lifecycle, disproportionately affecting low-income and BIPOC groups. We can enhance our communities, wildlife, and environment by reducing plastic products at the source.

We can't do it alone, and we all have a role to play in putting meaningful answers in place. It can take the form of everyday acts such as reducing plastic consumption, lobbying legislators to pass legislation that effectively decreases plastic pollution, or becoming active part of the global community and get involved in finding real solutions for the problem.


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