by Dr. Joseph Mercola
March 18, 2020
Evidence suggests plastic recycling efforts can have only a minor
impact even under the best of circumstances, since plastic can, at
best, be recycled once, due to degradation
Since 1950, the world has created 6.3 trillion kilograms of plastic
waste, and 91% of it has never been recycled
Many recycling facilities cannot process mixed plastics, even though
many mixed plastic products are marked and marketed as being
Earth Island Institute filed a lawsuit against 10 major companies at
the end of February 2020, in an effort to force them to take
responsibility and pay for the environmental and ecological
destruction their products are causing
New Mexico Senator Tom Udall has introduced new legislation
Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2020 - which would hold
companies that profit from plastic accountable for the pollution
As plastic pollution has become a more well-recognized problem,
public awareness about the need for recycling has grown as well.
question is whether or not recycling is a viable answer. Growing
evidence suggests plastic recycling efforts can have only a minor
impact even under the best of circumstances.
As reported by The
"Consumers are led to
believe that the Earth would be healthy, if only they recycled
properly, when, in reality, there is no market for most plastics
to be recycled...
Past studies have shown only about 10%
of plastic gets recycled, but... once those numbers are updated
to reflect the recent collapse of the recycling market, it will
probably show that only about 5% is getting recycled."
Increasing recycling may
sound like the answer, but as Jim Puckett, executive director
of the Basel Action Network, tells Tim Dickinson of
Rolling Stone magazine, 2
"When you drill down
into plastics recycling, you realize it's a myth."
"Since 1950, the world has created 6.3 trillion kilograms of plastic
waste - and 91 percent has never been recycled even once, according
to a landmark 2017 study published in the journal Science Advances.
Unlike aluminum, which can be recycled again and again, plastic
degrades in reprocessing, and is almost never recycled more than
once," Dickinson writes. 3
"Modern technology has
hardly improved things: Of the 78 billion kilograms of plastic
packaging materials produced in 2013, only 14 percent were even
collected for recycling, and just 2 percent were effectively
recycled to compete with virgin plastic. 'Recycling delays,
rather than avoids, final disposal,' the Science authors write.
And most plastics
persist for centuries."
Companies Sued for Creating Plastic Pollution
As reported by The Guardian, 4 Earth Island Institute filed a lawsuit
against 10 major companies at the end of February 2020, in an effort
to force them to take responsibility and pay for the environmental
and ecological destruction their products are causing.
According to Environmental Health News, 5
"Two-thirds of all plastic
ever produced remains in the environment," which helps explain why
tap water, bottled water, 6 sea salt 7 and a variety of seafood
come with a "side order" of microplastic.
At the rate we're going, plastic will outweigh fish in our oceans by
Already, plastic outweighs phytoplankton 6-to-1, and
zooplankton 50-to-1 11 and more than half of the plastic currently
inundating every corner of the globe was created in the last 18
years alone. 12
With plastic pollution estimated to double in the
next decade, 13 it's quite clear we're traveling full speed ahead on
an unsustainable path.
The companies named in the suit,
Procter & Gamble,
...were identified as the top
producers of the plastic debris collected during a worldwide audit
in 2019, in which 72,000 Break Free From Plastic volunteers picked
up beach trash.
These companies, Earth Island Institute says, rely on single-use
packaging that never gets recycled and ends up as environmental
litter instead. The lawsuit also demands an end to advertising
claiming these kinds of single-use products are recyclable, since a
vast majority never are.
David Phillips, executive director of Earth
Island Institute, tells The Guardian: 14
"These companies should bear the responsibility for choking our
ecosystem with plastic. They know very well that this stuff is not
being recycled, even though they are telling people on the labels
that it is recyclable and making people feel like it's being taken
care of …
This is the first suit of its kind. These companies are going to
have to reveal how much they've known about how little of this stuff
is being recycled.
It's not that we're slamming recycling.
We're totally in favor of recycling. We just want companies to
take responsibility for what's really happening to all this
plastic they're producing."
Landfills Clogged With Recycled Plastic
A little-known problem that contributes to the misperception that
plastic is being properly recycled - provided you put it in your
recycling bin - is the fact that many recycling facilities cannot
process mixed plastics, even though many mixed plastic products are
marked and marketed as being recyclable.
A 2020 Greenpeace survey of hundreds of U.S. recycling facilities
reveal none were able to process coffee pods, for example, and each
pod may take up to 500 years to degrade naturally. 15
"Fewer than 15%
accepted plastic clamshells... and only a tiny percentage took
plates, cups, bags and trays," The Guardian reports. 16
Rather than getting better, U.S. recycling efforts are faltering
since China stopped accepting plastic waste for recycling in 2018.
With infrastructure lacking, much of the plastic being collected for
recycling is simply sent to landfills.
John Hocevar, director of
Greenpeace's Oceans Campaign tells The Guardian:
"This report shows
that one of the best things to do to save recycling is to stop
claiming that everything is recyclable. We have to talk to
companies about not producing so much throw-away plastic that
ends up in the ocean or in incinerators."
Based on its findings,
Greenpeace is considering filing federal complaints against
"mislead the public about the
recyclability of their packaging," as such claims violate the
Federal Trade Commission's Green Guides that state "marketers must
ensure that all reasonable interpretations of their claims are
truthful, not misleading and supported by a reasonable basis."
Being more transparent about the recyclability of plastics would
also save municipalities lots of money.
According to The Guardian,
Berkeley, California, alone spends $50,000 a year,
recycle material that largely isn't recyclable."
So, rather than
making a profit, recycling facilities end up subsidizing brands that
falsely claim their products are recyclable when in fact they
Amount of Plastic Ingested Over a Lifetime
The plastic pollution extends to our own bodies.
According to a
study commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund and carried out by
University of Newcastle, Australia, people consume, on average, 5
grams of plastic per week. 18
Based on an average human life span of 79 years, the average person
will consume 44 pounds (20 kilograms) of plastic, which equates to
about two recycling bins' worth.
While seafood may sound like a logical source of most of this
plastic, data reveal that drinking water is actually the primary
Investigators have found plastic particles in all water
sources, including groundwater, surface water, tap water and bottled
water 19 throughout the world.
In the U.S., 94.4% of tap water samples have been shown to contain
plastic fibers, as have 82.4% of tap water samples from India and
72.2% of those from Europe. 20
Research 21 has also shown we inhale microscopic particles of plastic
Plastic particles identified in indoor air include
synthetic fibers such as polyester, polyethylene and nylon, and nonsynthetic particles composed of protein and cellulose.
As in the environment, plastic does not break down in the human
body, and many of the chemicals used in the manufacture of plastics
are known to,
They also have been linked
to obesity, heart disease and cancer.
So, while researchers claim the health effects of all this plastic
in our diet are still unknown, it seems logical to suspect it can
wreak havoc on public health, especially younger people who are
exposed right from birth.
As Pete Myers, Ph.D., founder and chief scientist of the nonprofit
Environmental Health Sciences and an adjunct professor of chemistry
at Carnegie Mellon University told Consumer Reports,
be no effect." 23
Accused of Undermining Recycling Efforts
Of the 10 companies named in the Earth Island Institute's lawsuit,
Coca-Cola is responsible for the creation of more plastic trash
worldwide than the next three top polluters,
And, while Coca-Cola claims it is,
"working to... help turn off the
tap in terms of plastic waste" and that it is "investing locally in
every market to increase recovery of our bottles and cans," 26
...evidence suggests the company has in fact been undermining recycling
efforts by lobbying against so-called "bottle bills" or deposit laws
that require companies to add a deposit charge to their bottled
beverages that is then refunded when the bottle is returned for
As reported by The
"States with bottle
bills recycle about 60 percent of their bottles and cans, as
opposed to 24 percent in other states.
And states that have
bottle bills also have an average of 40 percent less beverage
container litter on their coasts, according to a 2018 study
29 of the U.S. and Australia …"
However, these kinds of
bills also place a portion of the responsibility and cost of
recycling on the companies selling the bottles which, undoubtedly,
is why Coca-Cola and other beverage makers keep fighting against
them whenever they come up.
Coca-Cola also doesn't appear to be sincere in its promises to "turn
off the tap" of plastic waste, considering it uses virgin plastic
(so-called nurdles, which are a key plastic pollutant) to make
bottles rather than using recycled materials.
The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2020
Lawsuits are not the only route being taken to rein in plastic
pollution at its source.
As reported by Rolling Stone,
30 New Mexico
Senator Tom Udall has introduced new legislation - the Break Free
From Plastic Pollution Act of 2020 - which would hold companies that
profit from plastic accountable for the pollution they create.
Aside from banning certain single-use plastic items, the bill would
require companies selling plastic products to finance "end of life"
programs to ensure the plastic doesn't end up polluting the
The bill stands like David against Goliath, considering the plastic
industry involves not only global food and beverage companies but
also Big Oil and the tobacco industry.
All of these industries have deep pockets and are notorious for
their extensive lobbying and PR expertise.
As just one example,
Rolling Stone highlights the industry-funded nonprofit Keep America
Beautiful, which in the early 1970s aired public-service
announcements decrying littering.
pollution. People can stop it," the ads said.
Little did the public
realize that this was simply a clever way to shift the blame of
mounting plastic pollution onto consumers.
Meanwhile, behind the
scenes, Keep America Beautiful fought to prevent bans on single-use
As noted by Rolling Stone, Big Oil plays a significant yet largely
hidden role in all of this. As countries around the world are
weaning its citizens off gas powered transportation, oil companies
are homing in on the plastic industry for its continued growth.
Hopefully, the bill will receive the support it needs despite the
inevitable industry pressure to kill it.
At present, plastic
pollution carries a societal price tag of $139 billion a year.
By 2025, it's expected to
be around $209 billion. 31
By forcing companies to solve the pollution problems their products
produce, and pay for the implementation of those solutions, they
just might rethink their unwillingness to switch to materials that
are recyclable not just once but repeatedly, such as glass or
We as consumers can also
incentivize such changes by minimizing our day-to-day use of plastic
items of all kinds.
Dependency on Plastic
It can be extraordinarily difficult to avoid plastic, considering
most food and consumer goods are enshrined in plastic packaging.
However, you can certainly minimize your dependency on these
For example, consider:
products sold in glass containers rather than plastic
plastic-free alternatives to common items such as toys and
over single-use - This includes nondisposable razors,
washable feminine hygiene products for women, cloth diapers,
glass bottles for your beverages, cloth grocery bags,
handkerchiefs instead of paper tissues, and using an old
T-shirt or rags in lieu of paper towels
tap water rather than bottled water, and bringing your own
refillable bottles when going out -
Bottled water tends to
have far higher amounts of plastic debris than tap water. I
recommend filtering your tap water, not only to get rid of
potential plastic debris, but also to avoid the many
chemical and heavy metal pollutants found in most water
Buying glass food
storage containers rather than plastic ones
Bringing your own
reusable cloth shopping bags
Bringing your own
glass dish for leftovers when eating out
plastic cutlery and using your own silverware when buying
Now declared as a
COVID-19 continues to take its toll on people's health,
and thousands have already fallen victim to this mysterious illness.
But as the virus spreads
quickly, so does the misinformation surrounding it.
In these trying
times, you must learn to separate fact from fiction so you can take
the right measures to safeguard your health...
Sources and References
1, 4, 14 - The
Guardian February 27, 2020
2, 3, 12, 13, 30, 31
Stone March 3, 2020
5 - Environmental
Health News, Plastic Threatens our Health from Before Production
to Long After it's Thrown Away: Report
6 - Time
March 15, 2018
7 - Environmental
Science and Technology, October 4, 2018; DOI:
8 - Science
Daily, February 16, 2018
9 - World
Economic Forum January 16, 2017
10 - The
Guardian January 19, 2016
11 - Seastewards,
Marine Debris and Plastics
15 - WWF
The Lifecycle of Plastics June 19, 2018
16, 17 - The
Guardian February 18, 2020
18 - University
of Newscastle June 12, 2019
19 - Gizmodo
March 15, 2018
20 - WF
Analysis, No Plastic in Nature: Assessing Plastic Ingestion From
Nature To People 2019
21, 22 - Scientific
Reports 2019; 9, Article number 8670
23 - Consumer
Reports August 13, 2019
24 - Break
Free From Plastic, The Brand Audit Report 2019
25, 26 - The
Intercept October 23, 2019
27, 28 - The
Intercept October 18, 2019
29 - Marine
Policy October 2018; 96: 250-255