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.

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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

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… Read more »


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.


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.


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

Michelle Cassar

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… Read more »


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.


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?… Read more »


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.… Read more »

Kate E.

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


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… Read more »


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.


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.… Read more »

Lisa @Retro Housewife Goes Green

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

Maeve Murphy

Right on Beth. Well said.


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


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… Read more »


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… Read more »