Much of the planet is swimming in litter, which is harming animal and human health. Millions of animals are killed every year, from birds to fish to other marine organisms. Nearly 700 species, including endangered ones, are known to have been affected by litter ingestion. Recent scientific studies have found evidence of chemicals from plastics and plastic microparts inside human bodies.
The problem is not getting any better and it is estimated that by 2050, plastic in the oceans will outweigh fish. A report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in the partnership with the World Economic Forum, projects the oceans will contain at least 937 million tons of plastic and 895 million tons of fish by 2050.
Plastics and other materials end up in the ocean not just because people litter. A big part of the problem is that recycling infrastructure is not in place to reincorporate all materials back into production. Thus, our called “recyclables” travel on a truck from our houses to a material recovery facility (called MRF) and, once there, most of them are considered “contamination” and go to the landfill. Contamination? Weren’t these materials recyclables? They even had the little triangle in the bottom!
A couple of reasons why a supposedly recyclable is turned into contamination:
- too small – sorting is often made manually and the odds of a little cap, for example, being picked up compared to a milk jug or water bottle are very low;
- difficult color – black or colored packaging have limited transformation possibilities as their original pigment doesn’t go away and can only be transformed into darker color, never lighter;
- material type– some are highly desirable like aluminum cans, glass and cardboard. Among plastics, the most preferred are polyethylene terephthalate (PET or #1) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE or #2) bottles. Plastics with resin ID code numbers 3-7 can be valuable where regional markets exist, but currently markets are not robust or available for all MRFs, so they are not sorted and become contamination;
- material shape – films or bags cause problems during sorting operations so they are not recyclables. Labels or sleeves on aluminum cans fall under the same case. Aerosol cans pose a safety hazard if not emptied, so those are not desirable packaging for recycling;
- real contamination – when materials are not properly cleaned, such as when food residue remains on a plastic yogurt container. Remember to rinse!
Oh wow it seems that A LOT of what we put in the recycling bin ends up in the landfill…
The 2 big economic and environmental consequences:
- Waste of public money: it costs the double to the city to bring a supposedly “recyclable” to an MRF instead of bringing it directly to the landfill;
- Pollution: once in the landfill, wastewater, wind, rain and floods take those materials to rivers and oceans. This is especially true for lightweight materials like bags, straws, cotton buds or wrappers which are easily carried on the wind to the coast or find their way to the river network before reaching the sea.
So now it is clear why only 8% of plastics are recycled today and how the remaining 92% can, will and are polluting our oceans.
Every week we see news about big money in sustainability. Brand-owners are putting a lot of efforts to create packaging that can successfully navigate the recycling process. It is a hard task. They got to consider product integrity, shelf-life, supply chain… And then a whole market for recycled resins needs to be created. With the low cost of oil, it is even harder for recyclers to compete with the price of virgin resins. It has been a very complex, painful and slow process.
Only consumers have the power to shift this trend. If the purchase is stopped, production will have to stop.
Research shows that 66% of global consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable brands and that 73% of global millennials are willing to pay extra for sustainable offerings. Research also shows that consumers are confused with so many labels and don’t know what is recyclable and what is not.
We at Natu believe consumption pattern must change to save our planet and for this, Natu is committed to shine light into what is really sustainable and what is not, what is best for the planet and all of us.