Major bottling companies like Pepsi-Cola and Coke are under pressure to produce more bottles out of recycled bottles, but recycled plastic bottles are increasingly scarce! As a result, recycled plastic is a more expensive raw material than virgin plastic. (The material used for bottles is polyethylene terephthalate, or PET.)
The Wall Street Journal explains:
“Recycled PET became more expensive than virgin plastic in 2019 in both Europe and the U.S., not long after big consumer brands such as Coca-Cola and Nestlé began making green-packaging commitments. “
“Government policies that set out minimum recycled content levels for plastic packaging are driving more companies into the market for recycled PET. In California, companies will need to use 50% recycled material in bottles by 2030. The European Union has introduced deadlines covering all plastic packaging.
“This will be challenging as bottle collection rates are low—only around 27% in the U.S., based on the latest data available from the National Association for PET Container Resources. To achieve 30% recycled content in bottles by the end of the decade, output of recycled PET needs to increase by an annual compound rate of 45%, ICIS [a chemical commodity forecaster] calculates.”
Furthermore, other kinds of companies want to make products out of plastic bottles, too. Fast-fashion retailers like H& M want to use more recycled plastic, from which they can create polyester clothing. That means they are competing with bottle producers for the same raw materials.
When you consider how cheap virgin plastic is and how troublesome and complex the recycling of bottles has turned out to be, it is not surprising that most plastic ends up in landfills. Not long ago, two Atlantic writers argued that we should stop trying to recycle plastic at all—but they recommended trying to prevent the existence of such bottles by banning single-use plastic and requiring reusable dishes for school lunches and programs like Meals-on-Wheels.
I asked then and ask now, why not stop worrying about plastic and let it go into landfills?
That’s the view of John Tierney, who wrote in the City Journal in 2020, “The throwaway society is healthier, cleaner, more economical, less wasteful, less environmentally damaging—and yes, more ‘sustainable’ than the green vision of utopia.” He also noted the costs of curbside recycling and observed:
“As bales of unwanted recyclables pile up in warehouses, towns have had to start sending them to landfills, and dozens of American municipalities have finally had the sense to cancel their recycling programs.”
Image by Willfried Wende from Pixabay.