Why Isn't More Packaging Recyclable?
Plastic usage took off in the 1950s when it was introduced as a durable packaging solution for food and other products, but its greatest strength was also its greatest weakness. A robust material, its inability to break-down and biodegrade has meant that it is left to take up space in landfills, or worse, make its way out into the wider world to pollute our environment and the surrounding oceans.
Shockingly, only around 9% of the world's plastic has been recycled since 1950 due to a variety of factors including lack of facilities and the unsuitability of many plastics to even go through the recycling process. So why isn't more packaging recyclable?
There is more than just one simple answer. Many items are considered too small to be processed by mass recycling plants, deemed too fiddly, time-consuming and expensive to sort. These items fall through the system only to be buried in a landfill, burned for energy (which in itself causes air pollution) or just left to clog up the oceans. Many recycling centres also sort plastic by bouncing a beam of light off of them, but this can lead to dark or black coloured plastics unable to be classified, as they absorb light. As such, they are just thrown away.
The cosmetics industry is particularly problematic for this with many smaller items and coloured containers not getting sorted. It also has a problem with products containing microplastics, such as glitter or microbeads, which can not be recycled at all, and often get into the water supply and, subsequently, the oceans.
So what is the answer? Well, we shouldn't give up on recycling by any means. Plastic remains the predominant packaging material, and we need to continue to find ways to reuse the existing resources that are already out there. What we should also focus on, though, is a reduction in our usage of environmentally damaging products.
If more of what is produced were to be biodegradable, the environmental impact of our shopping and consumption habits would be significantly reduced. Consumers have a voice in this as it is their spending patterns that force change. The more people that are environmentally conscious in their purchasing decisions, the more likely retailers will follow suit in providing eco-friendly products.