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Spanish Shilling

Some stories and experiences after a lifetime spent in Spain

The Problems with Recycling Plastic
Monday, August 7, 2023 @ 10:07 AM

I was wandering around the Internet and came across this: ‘Recycling is a lie. Plastic manufacturers spent $1B to make you think it’s working’. The article says that recycling campaigns are designed purely to sell more plastic.

To solve the problem of the plastic trash, a dilemma we all accept is nothing short of dreadful, why, we just sort our trash into different containers, and voilà, the plastic trash is taken to a special place, where – we hope – it will be recycled into another bottle, plate, packaging material or (if its lucky), maybe a ball-point pen.

Nat Geo says that a million plastic bottles are sold every minute in the entire world.

Wikipedia says that ‘plastic recycling is the processing of plastic waste into other products. Recycling can reduce dependence on landfill, conserve resources and protect the environment from plastic pollution and greenhouse gas emissions’.

Plastic is used in 50,000 different products, says Consumo Claro, and it’s usually made to be sturdy – after all, no one wants their shampoo bottle suddenly melting on the shelf.

However, most of it, the sources above agree, simply isn’t recycled. We are fed a fantasy about how the manufacturers are working to clean the planet (and only the irresponsible consumers are failing by not putting their emptied water bottles into the big yellow bell). In short, around 9% of single-use plastic is recycled worldwide – the rest isn’t. The first thing to know is that recycling isn’t easy (there are many different types of plastic which need different processes), and secondly – it’s a lot cheaper just to make some more out of its base materials: crude oil, cellulose, coal, salt and natural gas.

Here in Spain, according to El País, we’ve been bucking the numbers, with 51.5% recycled. This may be, reading between the lines, that just over half of all of our plastic waste finds its way into recycling bins, although that too seems unlikely. Or perhaps the figure comes from the plastic recovered from the bins. Then it would be sorted into its different base components? Greenpeace is less sanguine, and reckons it’s nearer 30% recycled.

I wonder, do we care that our bottle of pop is made from recycled plastic – and do we wonder from what purpose exactly did the recycled plastic fulfil in its earlier incarnation?

Here in Almería, surrounded by the invernaderos, the plastic farms that provide all those fresh fruit and veggies, the discarded plastic (it’ll last for around five seasons) is almost all successfully recycled (says the official fruit n’ veg association).

But not everyone else is quite as responsable.

Those tiny grains of plastic in the sea; those rotting sheets of it lying in the empty ramblas; the endless number of plastic bags, juice cartons and water bottles in the countryside; the huge piles of plastic waste in the dumps – which often end up as landfill or (in some terrible and completely unforeseen accident) on fire.

We could ease our dependence on plastic, with paper, cardboard, metal or glass (all easily recycled), but the industry has other ideas; and money talks – Hell, even when it’s plastic.  

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