Since most plastics doesn’t biodegrade, recycling is seen as the most environmental friendly solution towards plastics disposal. However, is it cost efficient? is it really beneficial for the environment? Or is it merely a technological fix that is meant to soothe the human’s polluting soul?
Recycling a plastic bottle allows one to feel virtuous. It allows one to feel like they’re doing their part for the environment. However, critics have have argued that recycling is merely a giant placebo that wastes both money and resources.
The entire recycling process consumes a large amount of energy. Energy is needed to fuel the trucks that goes around collecting these recyclable materials. Energy is also used to power the recycling plant. Worse, some countries ship their plastics to faraway countries for recycling. All these energy contributes to the depletion of fossil fuels and contributes to global warming. Recycling plastic might have zero positive environmental benefit as it uses a large amount of energy.
Moreover, the problem with plastic recycling is that not all plastic are recyclable. Contamination often occurs in the recycling process. Materials such as dyes, heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, and sometimes pieces of biodegradable plastic can potentially contaminate an entire batch of petroleum-based plastics and it will all need to be thrown away.
In addition, recycling is very costly. It costs $300 more to process one ton of plastics in New York City than it would cost to take those materials to a landfill.
However, despite the high economic cost, my personal stance is that recycling is worth it. I support recycling not because its great, but because its the lesser evil, especially when compared to the likes of landfills and incineration. Moreover, comparative studies between recycling and other ‘end-of-life waste management strategies’ has also pointed towards recycling as the most viable option (Hopewell et al., 2009).
PS: If there is a choice, refusing to use disposable plastics in always a better alternative than recycling.
Hopewell, J., Dvorak, R., & Kosior, E. (2009). Plastics recycling: challenges and opportunities. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364(1526), 2115-2126.