Industry reacts to Greenpeace report on plastic recycling

The report released in October claims that plastic recycling is a dead-end street. Read on to find out what industry experts have to say

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November 1 2022 R. Keerthana
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Circular Claims Fall Flat Again, a recent report released by Greenpeace USA, claims that most plastic simply cannot be recycled. Calling mechanical and chemical recycling of plastic waste a failure, the report says "it will always fail because plastic waste is: (1) extremely difficult to collect, (2) virtually impossible to sort for recycling, (3) environmentally harmful to reprocess, (4) often made of and contaminated by toxic materials, and (5) not economical to recycle."

The report, which summarises plastic recycling statistics in the United States, says only 5 per cent of the mountains of plastic waste generated by U.S. households last year was recycled. While PET #1 and HDPE #2 were previously thought of as recyclable, this report finds that being accepted by a recycling processing plant does not necessarily result in them being recycled. 

Lisa Ramsden, Greenpeace USA Senior Plastics Campaigner, in a statement, says, “Corporations such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, and Unilever have worked with industry front groups to promote plastic recycling as the solution to plastic waste for decades. But the data is clear: practically speaking, most plastic is just not recyclable. The real solution is to switch to systems of reuse and refill.” 

Commenting on the report’s findings, Robin Wiener, president, Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, says, “Plastics recycling in the U.S. continues to grow and evolve as one of the most effective options for reducing our reliance on the extraction of fossil fuels to make new plastics. While the types of plastics are varied and packaging design can be complicated, the recycled materials industry is rising to the moment through innovation and the development of new technology.  The introduction of artificial intelligence, optical scanning, and other technological innovations into recycling will result in increased recycling rates in the future."
Talking about the positive developments in the industry, she adds, "The recycled materials industry is also making major investments in molecular processes to convert end-of-life plastics into recycled resins. We are also partnering with brands and manufacturers to help people recycle more, use more recycled materials in their products and to design their products more easily and effectively.  Advancements and innovations made by the recycled materials industry will provide a sustainable alternative to our precious natural resources and lead to a more resilient planet."

Speaking to Waste & Recycling MEA magazine, Emma Barber, Managing Director, DGrade FZ LLC, says,"PET plastic is highly recyclable, as is most plastic. The issue is not in the recycling of the material, but in the segregation and collection of it. People are inherently disinclined to make an effort to recycle, especially in the face of the tsunami of negative press about plastic. The fact is we need to put more effort into education and awareness to make people want to change their behaviour and take personal responsibility to ensure that plastic is collected and recycled." 

Barber adds, "A great deal of research has been done into looking at the motivations of some of these NGOs. The more lurid the headline the more attention it gets - this helps their funding. DGrade recycles up to one billion bottles per year in our recycling factory in KIZAD, which is approximately 20 - 25 per cent of the beverage bottle production in the UAE.  Our circular economy model proves that recycling plastic works, and is sustainable."  

Maryam Al Mansoori, General Manager, Rebound Plastic Exchange, comments,"Plastic has continually faced the wrath of stakeholders. However, the fact remains that plastic is integral to our daily lives. Rather than debating the plastic waste issue, conscious efforts need to translate into actionable initiatives that seek out innovative opportunities. Like the world over, and specifically for Western markets such as the United States of America, one can assume that recycling rates have dropped primarily because countries that traditionally import plastic waste have imposed stringent measures to curtail the practice.

"Governments around the world need to realise that circularity opportunities are ripe and they should enable and empower their local municipalities to enhance and effectively grow their collection networks through collection aggregators. Through Rebound Plastic Exchange (RPX), governments and companies can avail access and trade trusted, standardised, and quality assured feedstock," she adds. 

Eric Schaffner, CEO, ZeLoop, notes, "It is interesting to see the strength of the message against plastics and recycling from organisations such as Greenpeace. This message is fingerpointing the material but lacks proposals for alternatives that will provide similar benefits as plastic." 

"The report focuses on the U.S. where indeed the recycling loop is often broken because of a lack of drive from institutions. Landfilling is still seen as cheaper than implanting a proper loop. Recycled plastic is not provided in sufficient amounts to allow industrials to integrate it into the production line. Demand is then too low to make sorting economically viable. International Recycling Group in Erie wants to break this vicious circle by setting a supersized plastics recycling facility and involving consumers in recollection with the newBin app that ZeLoop’s team has built as a white-label using our unique blockchain reward engine," he points out. 

Bashar Ehsan, Managing Director, FAM Recycling - Ala Group, is of the view: "Technological advancements and better understanding of plastic have, in fact, helped improve plastic recycling rate. Governments should support more and better recycling by incentivising collection, sorting and source segregation. They should also consider encouraging better design of plastic goods to ensure easy recycling, and investment in waste collection infrastructure." 

Matt Seaholm, President & CEO, Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS), reacted strongly in a statement released by the association: "The activists at Greenpeace cannot call themselves environmentalists while simultaneously discouraging recycling as part of the solution to our world’s waste problems. There is no question that we as a society can and must recycle more. However, their assertions that recycling can’t keep plastic materials within the circular economy is disingenuous and irresponsible. Recycling is real, and the claims that it can’t ever work, made in this document, will likely result in unnecessary waste and public reaction that could actually cause greater environmental harm.

“The claim that ‘mechanical and chemical recycling of plastic waste has largely failed,’ is a desperate attempt to counter the billions of dollars in investments the plastics and recycling industries have made into new technologies and solutions to make products more recyclable.

“Nowhere in the Greenpeace-created document is there a focus on the value that plastics provide. One example is eliminating food waste to ensure we reduce world hunger, get much needed produce to areas that don’t have access to nutritious, fresh food and reduce food waste emissions. Especially during a time of heightened food uncertainty, global food shortages and greater demand, plastic must be embraced for its ability to build a reliable, sustainable food supply chain across the world economy. Another example is the essential role plastics play in the manufacture, transport and administration of health care, vaccines, and immunizations, successfully contributing to global scientific advancement.

“The Plastics Industry agrees that we don’t recycle enough plastic. The difference between our industry and Greenpeace is that we understand the necessary action needed to preserve a material that saves lives and improves our overall safety and quality of life through responsible use and recycling instead of creating false narratives.”