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[GreenYes] In search of some national plastics recycling facts and figures

Title: [GreenYes] In search of some national plastics recycling facts and figures


I'm writing from the Co-op America publications department, where we
are putting together our next issue of the Co-op America Quarterly,
which will focus on garbage and recycling issues.

>From what I've read, it seems as if a very small percentage of the
plastic containers that consumers are putting out on the curb for
recycling are actually finding a second life as any sort of end-use
product, and that #3 through #7 plastics have particularly low chances
of being re-formed into anything. I'm also learning that a high
percentage of our plastic "recycling" ends up in China and other
developing countries, where it may be recycled under very unsafe
conditions, or simply burned or dumped into landfills.

So -- I am looking for a reputable source of national information that
would put some numbers to these generalizations.  (The Ecology
Center's Plastic Task Force Report is exactly the sort of resource I'm
looking for, but their numbers are from 1996.) Can anyone help me nail
this down?

1. What percentage of each number of plastic that is "recycled" in the
US actually finds its way to some second life as a recycled product as
opposed to eventually being dumped or incinerated?

2. Are there some numbers of plastic that consumers should know are
essentially impossible to recycle profitably and will almost certainly
be eventually landfilled or incinerated regardless of whether their
municipality is willing to pick it up with curbside recycling or not?

3. What percentage of the plastic Americans "recycle" ends up getting
shipped to other countries? And once in other countries, what
percentage of this exported plastic waste gets dumped rather than
recycled in some way?

4. Many supermarkets collect plastic bags in a recycling receptacle.
>From what I've been able to learn, these plastic bags are getting
bales with commingled plastics and shipped overseas -- then what?
Does anyone have any solid statistics about the chances that a plastic
bag that a consumer "recycles" at their Whole Foods or other
supermarket in an American city will end up in some new product as
opposed to being dumped or burned?

In cooperation,

Joelle G. Novey, Editorial Associate

Co-op America: Economic Action for a Just Planet
1612 K St NW Washington DC 20006

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