June 15, 2022
Today's guest blog is authored by Steve Alexander, president and CEO of NERC Advisory Member the Association of Plastic Recyclers. The original post can be read here.
I recently read the report on plastics recycling rates by The Last Beach Cleanup and Beyond Plastics and, like many of you, it certainly was not good for my blood pressure. The pitiful white flag of surrender raised by the reports' authors certainly does not speak for the tens of thousands of Americans employed by our industry who, amidst a global pandemic, recycled nearly 5 billion pounds of plastic in 2020.
I received calls and emails from a number of APR members pointing out that the authors' disingenuous claim of low recycling numbers was achieved by parsing data, resulting in publishing an unfair and distorted assessment of our industry for the public.
The authors' suggestion that consumers simply switch to reusable products is not feasible for most consumers and would not make plastics "go away."
When Americans agree on little else, we are united — 85 percent — in support for recycling. At the same time, demand from brands trying to get more recycled content into their products is at a record high. It would be ludicrous to abandon plastics recycling now.
But we need to do better.
If we are serious about reducing plastic waste, we need to employ every strategy. Reusables are part of the answer, and so are robust recycling programs that collect, process and recycle products that cannot be reused, converting recycled resins into new products.
We need to bolster recycling programs so that more recyclable plastic can be collected, sorted and processed for use in new products. We can achieve that by harmonizing containers collected and upgrading the technology at the 9,000 different community recycling programs serving 20,000 U.S. communities, and by adding new programs to reach the 40 million Americans who still do not have access to recycling.
The authors' doom and gloom is not shared by others looking at the recovery of consumer packaging and the growth of recycled content. A leading marine environmental association recently stated that the global market for recycled material was forecast to grow around 30 percent from 2020, but accurately pointed to the need for more feedstock to achieve real growth.
I am damn proud of our industry. Recycling is working. We see it happening every day. It's part of the solution. Allegations that it is not are simply false and, worse, destructive to our communities, the environment, and the economy.
We stand to make real progress in the battle against plastic waste. Recycling can continue to get better if we're willing to invest in it. Now is the exact wrong time to follow the authors' advice and surrender. America's plastic recyclers won't and we don't think American consumers will either.
Disclaimer: Guest blogs represent the opinion of the writers and may not reflect the policy or position of the Northeast Recycling Council, Inc.