How much plastic is actually being recycled into new products?
Plastic is everywhere. In our households, in the supermarket, in restaurants, in our rivers, in our oceans – plastic is quite literally all over the planet. So how and when did it get like this? What do we do about it? Isn’t it recyclable? Here’s the truth about plastic recycling and why it is so important that we find ways to reduce and manage our use of plastics on a local and global scale.
“We need to improve the way we manage plastic waste so they don’t end up in our environment.”
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) was first polymerized between 1838-1872, but wasn’t widely used and mass-produced until much later. During the 1950s to 1970s, only a small amount of plastic was being produced, which meant that there was a much smaller amount of plastic waste to be dealt with. However, as the use of plastic, especially single-use or disposable plastic, became more and more popularized since the 1990s and 2000s, tripling in production, we are dealing with massive amounts of plastic waste that have nowhere to go; plastic can take anywhere from 400 to 1000 years to decompose.
Photo by Naja Bertolt Jensen on Unplash.
“Researchers estimate that more than 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced since the early 1950s. About 60% of that plastic has ended up in either a landfill or the natural environment.” – UNEP
Annually, more than 380 million tonnes of plastic is produced across the globe. That is equivalent to 2,700,000 blue whales, or roughly the weight of the entire human population combined. Worldwide, one million plastic bottles are purchased per minute, and five trillion single-use plastic bags are used every year. And the main issue with all this plastic is that half of all plastic production is designed to be used only once and then thrown away.
We might think that all plastic can be recycled and made into other plastic items. But in reality, only 9% of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled, 12% is incinerated, and the remaining 79% is accumulated in landfills, dumps, or the natural environment.
Check out our infographics on plastic recycling.
Photo by tanvi sharma on Unplash.
Of the 9% of plastic that does get recycled, they are actually being downcycled, meaning that the quality and durability decrease every time until they can no longer be recycled again. This is because plastics are polymers, long chains of atoms arranged in repeating units, that become shorter and weaker every time it is being recycled. Refer to our post on What are the different types of plastic? to better understand their differences and recyclability. Contact your local recycler for further details and information on the recycling rules in your area!
As consumers, we play a critical role in how plastic waste is being managed, depending on how we use our products, the conditions they are in when thrown away, our knowledge on what and how plastics can be recycled, and our everyday habits of reducing, reusing, and recycling.
Photo by Nareeta Martin on Unplash.
As a brand, it is part of our responsibility to stay informed and take the necessary actions to help our environment from continuing to be polluted and further damaged. Instead of letting plastic get downcycled and eventually becoming waste that can no longer be reused, we’ve chosen a circular approach that upcycles and renews recycled plastic into new materials and products.
This is how our first product, the cinnamon t-shirt, came to life. We chose recycled plastic bottles as our core material so that we can reduce the impact of single-use plastic. By using 100% recycled plastic over virgin plastic, we potentially save the plastic wastes from ending up in landfills and our environment for centuries to come. Moreover, recycled polyester can save up to 58% in energy and 45% in greenhouse gas emission.
With sustainability and circularity at the core of our brand, our aim is to find sustainable and eco-friendly solutions to manage plastic waste and its impact on the environment while upcycling these materials into products that can continue to circulate and regenerate over and over again. Learn more about the story of Koup here.
Despite all the environmental and health issues that have surged due to the growth in plastic production over the years, plastics are undoubtedly a critical part of our lives, and as the Science History Institute states, “raised the standard of living and made material abundance more readily available; replacing natural materials with plastic has made many of our possessions cheaper, lighter, safer, and stronger”. The point isn’t to get rid of plastics or ban them from being used entirely. The aim is to develop better recycling systems in our cities, make more sustainable and earth-friendly choices in our everyday lives as consumers, advocate for technologies and government policies that help in maintaining resource efficiency while minimizing environmental issues, and for companies and brands to design out waste rather than creating more waste for our planet.
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