AI News, The Recycling Game Is Rigged Against You

The Recycling Game Is Rigged Against You

Even before China stopped accepting plastic refuse from abroad, 91 percent of potentially recyclable plastic in the U.S. ended up in landfills –

University of Georgia engineering professor Jenna Jambeck said that indeed, part of the reason China is now refusing to process American and European plastic is that so many people tossed waste into the wrong bin, resulting in a contaminated mix difficult or impossible to recycle.

In a paper published last week in Science Advances, she and her colleagues calculated that between now and 2030, 111 million metric tons of potentially recyclable plastic will be diverted from Chinese plants into landfills.

study Jambeck led in 2015 calculated that about 8 million metric tons of plastic garbage is added to our already polluted oceans each year, killing sea birds, turtles, marine mammals and other creatures.

He wrote back that single-stream recycling has burdened us with a heavy cognitive load: This very morning I finally found out how to treat a milk carton with a plastic spout.

While there ought to be a fine for the carcasses and Christmas lights, for the most part the answer to contaminated recycling streams is not to keep berating consumers over getting Resin Code 5 wrong, but to commit to advancing clean plastic technology.

Even if consumer participation in recycling were 100 percent, we wouldn’t be close to recycling 100 percent of the material, said chemical engineer Megan Robertson, who co-wrote a piece in Science last November on the future of plastics recycling.

(Worth noting: Over that same span in which recycling streams have become more contaminated, labor in China has also become scarcer and more expensive.) Another problem is that nearly all current “recyclable”

plastics can’t go back into packaging but get a second life as a handbag or lawn chair before settling into landfills as their final resting place.

The other author of the Science paper, Jamie Garcia of IBM Research, has invented a new kind of plastic, which can be recycled back into the same kinds of containers hundreds of times.

We Solve for X: Molly Morse on replacing plastics

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