The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

November 15, 2010

The Truth About “America Recycles Day”

Plastics Make It PossibleToday is America Recycles Day, brought to you by The American Chemistry Council, Pepsico, Nestle, and other mega corporations hoping that YOU will take responsibility for the plastic waste THEY produce so they won’t have to.

“America Manages To Toss Disposable Packaging Into The Recycling Bin When It’s Convenient” Day

When most people tell you they recycle, what they mean is that they put their bottles, containers, paper, cans, etc. into the recycle bin instead of the trash bin.  Then, they can forget about it.  That’s not recycling.  That’s sorting.  Recycling is what hopefully happens after the materials are hauled away and  sold to the companies that convert the “waste” materials into new products.  How much of what we put into our recycle bins is actually recycled?  It all depends on the market.

In the case of plastic, most of the material is downcycled into secondary products like carpeting and polar fleece that usually cannot be recycled further.  It’s  a slower process to the landfill.  But it does nothing to reduce the need for virgin plastic to keep producing more disposable bags and containers and bottles.

Recycling is necessary, but it’s not the answer to the plastic pollution problem!

As long as we are addicted to single-use disposable products and packaging, we will need recycling systems, just like we need garbage hauling for the waste that can’t be recycled or composted.  But where does our plastic “recycling” go after it’s hauled away?  Usually, to China, where whole communities are sickened by the toxic emissions from this supposedly green solution.  Take a look at this video tracking plastic recycling from a town in Britain to a small community in China.  It’s several years old, and this particular facility has been shut down.  But as long as the majority of our plastic recycling is shipped overseas, these are the kinds of conditions we will help to create.

Buying Products from Recycled Materials

The American Chemistry Council released a statement a few days ago: Most Americans Say It Feels Green to Buy Recycled. No one can argue that a shirt made from recycled bottles isn’t greener than a brand new shirt made from virgin polyester. And since there is already so much plastic waste polluting the planet, it’s necessary to find ways to recover and reuse all that material. But recovery is only necessary because there’s so much plastic crap to begin with!

Community Recycling Supports the Plastics Industry

The ACC’s statement mentions not one word about reducing consumption. And it also completely avoids suggesting that plastics manufacturers practice Extended Producer Responsibility and create take back programs for the disposable products it manufactures. They want to reap the rewards and stick us with the monumental task of figuring out how to clean up the mess. We pay for recycling programs with our tax dollars, while the ACC fights bottle bills and bag fees at every turn.


Recycling is the LAST of the 4 R’s: REFUSE, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. It’s a last resort when we’ve done the best we can to get disposable plastics out of our lives.

Recycling is necessary. But it’s not the final solution.

You might also enjoy...


Etsy handmade and vintage

I only post ads for companies I patronize myself. Your support helps to fund my plastic-free mission.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
9 years ago

Wow. You are so amazing Beth. Thank you for being so brave for giving your own opinion about this matter. Indeed we should do something about preserving the Earth. This is our home we should be a steward not the destroyer of it. You have such powerful conviction. Thank you. I believe that we should follow the 4Rs, refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle to have a better future.

Jesse Poe
12 years ago

Great stuff here. Really agree, however after a trip through Honduras and some other parts near Honduras, I was really struck by how our approach to plastic needs to be a bit more “bipartisan”.

What I mean is that I personally REFUSE plastic, if I forget my cloth bag I just carry all my items up my arm like a a waiter and look like an idiot, but it’s worth it to me, I would rather go thirsty than take a water bottle when I forget my reusable bottle, etc.

But it is a drip in the ocean, an important one, but a single drip none the less, then I see big companies who yes are making plastic but also trying to reclaim it and reuse it.

It seems almost counter-intuitive but they can have the biggest impact especially in areas where butting trash in a trash can is not even thought of let alone recycling.

Those big battle ships moving even one degree in the direction of the good makes a huge difference, much more than the difference I am making. My difference is important and important as an example to the people I touch in my life or see me carrying my groceries up my arm like a dork, I am making a difference, but I am happy that those with bigger arms than I are coming around to seeing that even if just for PR as stated they are able to make a dent, a bigger dent than I can on my own.

I wonder if it might be productive to even think and talk about how to help companies in their recycling efforts, I am sure if they see they get a lot of people cheering they are only going to do it more, which would be a good thing for everyone.

12 years ago

Beth, my own experiences with the ACC and the plastic titans confirm everything you’ve written here. For the ACC, recycling is about PR and nothing more. The dirty little secret about plastics recycling is that it’s more profitable to make new plastics than recycle the old.

12 years ago

I agree that refusing is of utmost importance, but the British recycler guy in the video has made me really curious if it’s possible to have nonpolluting, non-worker-endangering plastic recycling — he seemed to imply it is. If it is, I wonder what kind of incentive rejiggering it would take to get that happening.

12 years ago

Thank you for this great post. I will be sharing it! Remembering that we have that option to REFUSE is so important!

Michelle Cassar
12 years ago

So true, I thought I use to recycle. What I use to do was wash up my rubbish & stick it outside the front door. What happened after never really occurred to me, I “recycled” wasn’t it all lovely…

Shortly after learning about plastic a couple of years ago I was visiting my home town (Chelmsford, Essex, UK) & had a bit of time so I went to the recycling centre. Wow. To see all that stuff piled SO high was an eye opener. What I also learnt was how glass travelled 10 miles to be recycled, plastic on the other hand travels to Blackpool (the other end of the country) to be down-cycled. I also learnt there may be 10,000 plastic bottles, then if one top sneaked in, that’s it, batch ruined.

Chelmsford make this process easier & hopefully more successful by only asking for bottles, so the public do most the sorting. I wish they had done this in Newcastle when I lived there, putting all that plastic in the bin would of made me think more in the first place….

It took a clean on a Portuguese beach & a Surf Magazine to teach me. But my, am I glad I learnt. & I keep on learning! Thank you!

When will the chasing arrows be coming off plastic????

12 years ago

Of course I recyle mostly things I pick up on the street or bring home from work. I often have wondered if they really are reused or just picked up to make us feel good. Theonly recyling I am sure of is composting, since I can see the results in my garden! The only real solution is to not buy so much stuff especially plastic, and support efforts to ban plastic bags and one time use bottles etc.

12 years ago

Very good points made on this video – I’ve begun to compare products not only by the product advantages but also by the amount of plastic waste they are wrapped in.

Also I’m always amazed at how puzzled cashiers are when I don’t want a plastic sack for the one small item I just purchased. Makes me feel sad – like not too many people refuse a sack. Why do so many people feel the need to have an item or two swinging from their hand in a sack? Are they afraid that others might see what they just bought? Is it habit? Do they feel like the trip isn’t complete without a sack? Are they afraid store security will think they stole an item carried out without a sack? Are they afraid of non-conformity?

These are questions that puzzle me because I see it whenever I go to the store – someone buys a few batteries and needs a bag to carry them out of the store. Funny – because I bet they don’t walk around their house carrying their batteries in a bag.

12 years ago

Tigerlily, that information about the company that recycles plastic containers back into plastic containers is really interesting.

In Germany, things like plastic Coke and water bottles are made of a sturdier, thicker plastic than here (not sure what). You pay a deposit on them when you buy them, and you return them to a grocery store when you’re done and get your deposit back. The companies that own the bottles (Coke, etc.; or maybe they contract this out) wash and sterilize the bottles, then refill them. It’s much less energy intensive than melting down the plastic and reforming plastic bottles.

The system in Germany arose because they do have laws there that make the manufacturers responsible for their products and packaging from cradle to grave. I wonder if something similar would arise here if we could pass laws like that? Tide bottles would be washed and refilled with Tide, and likewise for other brands. Beth is right; tax money is going towards finding solutions for manufacturers’ waste — they aren’t held accountable.

Kate E.
12 years ago

Thanks for always speaking out and educating, even when it isn’t the popular answer! Fabulous!!!!

12 years ago

The thing to remember at all times is

APPEARANCES ARE ONE THING – and are easily/cheaply produced
REALITY IS ANOTHER – it cannot be fudged but can easily be hidden

In the Western world, we have perfected appearances and have tremendous amounts of money going to companies that produce it, Hollywood only one area of production among many.

We all know appearances because we are subject to them daily. We only know our LOCAL reality in our daily lives, and not even that unless we notice what goes on around us.

I used the video in a message to my alderwoman asking if our town knows where our recycling goes.

12 years ago

I’ve been researching the limits of recycling plastic– particularly the extremely expensive nature of the process, and I totally agree that recycling is not the solution. I find it very sobering that plastic I use today will be around long after I die. I agree that public action is really important; structural change is needed for the environmentally friendly choice to become the easy choice.

12 years ago

I don’t know how it works in the States, but I recently went on a tour of the Materials Recycling Facility in my Municipality in Ontario. None of the materials collected are sent overseas. In fact most of it is kept here in Ontario, some fibre material goes to neighbouring Quebec. Finally a little is sent into the North East US.

Yes it is true that most products are down-cycled. However I also discovered that a company is taking #2 plastic (High Density, like laundry soap containers) and turning them back into containers. The one difficulty of this is colour. Tide wants containers with that bright orange colour for branding. What this company does is double layering. The inside is recycled plastic (likely a grey/brown) the outside is virgin plastic in the brand colour.

No this is not perfect, but I like that the plastic is not getting down cycled. So now we just need to get consumers and companies ok with grubby looking colours.

Lisa @Retro Housewife Goes Green
12 years ago

Love this!!! I’m so happy to see several people talking about this issue today.

Maeve Murphy
12 years ago

Right on Beth. Well said.

12 years ago

That post just rocks my world. I’m going to share it with friends. You write with such conviction; it’s truly inspiring.

12 years ago

I agree to a point. I feel that we could do with a few less plastics in our lives, especially if there are other alternatives. I know that the “eat Local” store here in burien does what they can— offering glass containers for their frozen entrees (You pay a deposit about the cost of the container). On the other hand we have a Local Pet food store where all the pet food is home made, but when I suggested to the proprietor that she institute the same program or at least let folks bring their own containers in, she looked at me like I had the plague. At least letting folks bring in their own containers would save her on buying ziplocks and reduce her costs. Shame- she makes great dog food, suitable for human consumption! Oh well you win some battles, lose some. But getting back to your post, I agree that recycling is an answer, just not the answer. Refuse first. Reduce second. Re-use third and recycle fourth

12 years ago

Yes, some very good points.

About this sentence: “No one can argue that a shirt made from recycled bottles isn’t greener than a brand new shirt made from virgin polyester.”
Well, I was in local Walmart the other evening and saw Hanes sweat pants and tops for women made from recycled plastic. My question to myself was, is there BPA in these sweats? Bisphenol A, BPA, is a known endocrine system disruptor. So the action of recycling and making clothing with plastics might be considered green to some, but it may very well be unhealthy to wear these garments. I don’t know. I’ve e mailed Hanes to ask if the sweats are BPA free.