Greenpeace recently published a study “to determine the legitimacy of ‘recyclable’ claims and labels on consumer plastic products.” The study involved a comprehensive survey of 367 material recovery facilities (MRFs) throughout the United States. Study findings have revealed several alarming results, including that many plastics labeled as recyclable are not actually recyclable.
Recycling labels are intended to be “truthful advertising to consumers, prevention of harmful contamination in America’s recycling system, plus identification of products for elimination or redesign to reduce waste and plastic pollution.” All these product claims and labeling are under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
But Greenpeace’s recent study unearthed evidence that certain plastic items are mislabeled as recyclable when, in fact, they are not. Additionally, there are particular plastics that are either entirely non-recyclable or have “negligible-to-negative value,” which accounts for them not being recycled at all, even though recycling programs might collect them.
China began restricting its importation of plastic waste about two years ago. This has prompted an urgency to domestically reorganize America’s labor-intensive sorting and reprocessing of plastic. But American waste management and recycling programs have not caught up with the astronomical plastic waste accumulation.
“Retailers and consumer goods companies across the country are frequently putting labels on their products that mislead the public and harm America’s recycling systems,” said John Hocevar, oceans campaign director at Greenpeace USA. “Instead of getting serious about moving away from single-use plastic, corporations are hiding behind pretenses that their throwaway packaging is recyclable. We know now that this is untrue. The jig is up.”
Greenpeace’s report on the misleading plastic recycling labels highlights the accelerating problem of our nation’s garbage. Just last spring, New York Times stated that amidst skyrocketing costs, “more U.S. cities have stopped recycling.”
It remains to be seen how the U.S. waste management and recycling infrastructure will feasibly evolve to counteract garbage accretion and its contamination, which could adversely affect both the environment and public health.
Image via Vivianne Lemay