In his article published on October 4, 2018, on the Plastic Pollution Coalition (PPC) website, chemical engineer Jan Dell offers his estimation of the U.S. plastic recycling rates for 2018 and 2019.

Dell starts with the statistics on solid waste and recycling in 2015, released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in July 2018. According to these data, the plastic recycling rate in the U.S. in 2015 was at 9.1%. The 2015 statistics are “an unwelcome surprise,” as they show that “U.S. plastic waste generation rose while the amount recycled declined from the previous year,” so Dell. He argues that, since 2015, several factors have gained on importance and continue to “work against the key premise that waste plastic will someday have sufficient value to drive reclaiming it rather than disposing of it.” For example, “plastic waste generation is increasing in the U.S., exports counted as recycled have cratered due to China’s ban, costs of recycling are increasing since many trucks are needed to collect the widely dispersed waste, and plastic production expansion is keeping the prices of new plastics comparatively low.”

Based on these considerations, Dell estimates that “the U.S. plastic recycling rate will sink from 9.1% in 2015 to 4.4% in 2018.” He further predicts that “the recycling rate could drop to 2.9% in 2019 if other countries in Asia follow China’s path on import bans or the proposed Basel Convention amendment prohibits the U.S. from shipping plastic waste to those countries.”

These projections “should be a wake-up call to the false promise that the existing voluntary, economic-driven U.S. recycling system is a credible solution to plastic pollution.” Instead of more “statements about  . . . [corporate] commitment to recycling and plans to use recyclable materials for packaging,” Dell calls for “real solutions to plastic pollution,” including “the reduction of single use plastics in ‘on-the-go’ situations that have the highest likelihood of polluting our environment,” including “plastic bags, plastic straws, and expanded polystyrene foam containers from fast food and retail operations.” Further, “beverage and retail companies should be mandated to operate reverse vending machines and incentivize container return everywhere that they sell beverages in plastics bottles.”

Dell informs that his calculations have been “peer-reviewed by a diverse group of people working in the environmental arena.” He invites the readers to share “other relevant and credible datasets that may change the estimation.”

Read more

Jan Dell (October 4, 2018). “U.S. plastic recycling rate projected to drop to 4.4% in 2018.Plastic Pollution Coalition

U.S. EPA (2018). “Advancing sustainable materials management: Facts and figures.

Katharina Wecker (October 12, 2018). “Plastic waste and the recycling myth.Deutsche Welle