A recent report by Greenpeace USA found that only about 5% of plastic waste generated in the US in 2021 was recycled.
Though the 5% number seems shockingly bad, the US has never actually been great at recycling plastic. The US peaked at 10% of plastic waste recycled back in 2014 and has only been decreasing since. Corporations have only exacerbated the problem by pushing for recycling as a solution while doing little to ensure that the recycling process actually works.
So, why is plastic so difficult to recycle? Plastic waste in the US is collected as mixed plastic, and with trillions of plastic items thrown away each year, it’s virtually impossible to sort the different types of plastic and dispose of them properly.
To make matters worse, the toxic chemicals in plastic are also incredibly harmful to both humans and the environment. It also means that most plastic cannot be reused due to toxicity risks. Lastly, the process is incredibly expensive so it’s much cheaper for companies to produce more plastic rather than focus on sustainability efforts.
On the plus side, some countries have taken steps and set goals to ban certain single-use items. It also seems the trend is spilling over into travel as well. More and more companies are offering up more sustainable ways to see the world without leaving a negative footprint.