67% of all plastic we put in the recycling bin gets incinerated (source: EPA 2018 stats). See also: Irish Examiner (Sep. 2021).
While the public is instructed to put all types of plastic in their recycle bin, many types of hard and soft plastic will not be recycled, either because it is too difficult to carry out, or because there is no market for the resulting material.
Contamination is another reason why packaging doesn’t get recycled. Many people are careless about what they put in their recycling bin. Workers at recycling plants are forced to sift through things like dirty nappies, mouldy food, medical waste and more. Contamination of recycling bins by these types of items can be as high as 36%. (Source). Packaging should always be clean, dry and loose and free of food residue.
Plastic can only be recycled a few times. It eventually ends up being ‘downcycled’ into products like carpets, fleece clothing and building and garden materials such as decking, fencing, park benches and window frames.
In the EU, only around 9% of the plastic in use is made from recycled plastic.
Microplastics – small particles of plastic (often from worn down car tyres) – can be blown by the wind and inhaled by people and animals. Every time you wash synthetic clothing millions of microplastics are washed down the drain ending up in waterways. Read more about microplastic.
This video advises that the lids be kept on plastic bottles, otherwise they will fall through the gaps in the equipment and end up as ‘residue’.
Small materials (presumably bottle caps and small pieces of plastic) can fall through the gaps in the separators at the recycling plant. Fromthis RTE article: “A lot of small materials known as “fines” would fall through, these are then biostablised, which removes the oxygen demand and then used for daily cover on landfills. While landfill cover might not sound like a “fantastic treatment method” it still gets considered a recovery operation because the alternative would be to use virgin materials on the landfills.”
PET bioplastics can be recycled in the same recycling stream as conventional PET plastic. (Source).
Biodegradable does not always mean that the plastic is compostable. (Read more).
Plastic enters the ocean via rivers, discarded nets from fishing vessels, flooding events causing landfill to overflow, and trash that is left on beaches.
It is estimated that 90% of ocean plastic originates from just 10 rivers
More than 640,000 tonnes of nets, lines, pots and traps used in commercial fishing are dumped and discarded in the sea every year, the same weight as 55,000 double-decker buses..
The Ocean Cleanup project is currently attempting to clean up the Pacific Garbage Patch – an area of nearly 8 million square kilometres in the ocean between Japan and the American West Coast where 80,000 tonnes of plastic debris and discarded fishing nets are circulating.
Microplastics are fragments of plastic less than 5mm in length.
They enter the environment – soil, rivers and oceans – from a number of sources including:
Plastic waste in the ocean which has degraded into microplastics over time. In warm ocean water plastic can degrade in as little as a year. It degrades into smaller and smaller bits of plastic which are toxic. These end up in the guts of animals or wash up on shorelines.
Synthetic clothing (eg. Polyester, fleece, nylon and spandex) – especially the residue from washed synthetic clothing.
Cosmetics containing glitter particles and toiletries (such as facial scrubs and toothpastes) containing microbeads.
Waste from industry.
Wear and tear from tyres significantly contributes to the flow of microplastics into the environment.
Microplastics are thought to be a threat to human health as they can cross cellular barriers, affecting the functioning of cells.
They can accumulate in the organs of fish such as the gall bladder, pancreas and brain.