The Truth Behind Recycling Plastic
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The Truth Behind Recycling Plastic

By Zenchang Sun

Have you ever wondered what actually happens when you throw your plastic water bottle in the recycling bin? While recycling is often thought of as a way to repurpose materials for environmental benefit, the reality is not as simple.

The journey of a recycled plastic water bottle begins with collection at recycling facilities. At a facility, the bottle is cleaned, to remove any contaminants such as food residue or other non-plastic materials. After cleaning, the plastic bottle is chopped into small flakes or pellets. These flakes are then heated and molded into new products, such as new plastic bottles, or other plastic products like plastic lumber or plastic furniture. 

This is the ideal image of recycling. But this does not always happen. Most of the time, your water bottle might end up in a landfill instead. According to Nature.com, the United States does not have the infrastructure to recycle or reuse all of our waste, with only 11% of recycled materials being reused! Additionally, the U.S. exported much of its plastic waste to China for recycling, but China recently banned imports of plastic garbage due to an increase in waste. This has led to even more plastic waste here.

In some cases, it may even be more environmentally friendly to dispose of recyclable materials in landfills, rather than recycling them. Factoring in the carbon emissions from recycling treatment facilities and transportation, as well as the low percentage of recycled materials that are actually repurposed, recycling plastic may even have a negative impact on the environment. 

To address this recycling crisis, we should focus on reducing waste overall, rather than relying on recycling as a solution. So next time, consider using a reusable water bottle instead!