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How Big Oil Misled The Public Into Believing Plastic Would Be Recycled

Laura Leebrick, a manager at Rogue Disposal & Recycling in southern Oregon, is standing on the end of its landfill watching an avalanche of plastic trash pour out of a semitrailer: containers, bags, packaging, strawberry containers, yogurt cups.

None of this plastic will be turned into new plastic things. All of it is buried.

"To me that felt like it was a betrayal of the public trust," she said. "I had been lying to people ... unwittingly."

Rogue, like most recycling companies, had been sending plastic trash to China, but when China shut its doors two years ago, Leebrick scoured the U.S. for buyers. She could find only someone who wanted white milk jugs. She sends the soda bottles to the state.

The industry's awareness that recycling wouldn't keep plastic out of landfills and the environment dates to the program's earliest days, we found. "There is serious doubt that [recycling plastic] can ever be made viable on an economic basis," one industry insider wrote in a 1974 speech.

Yet the industry spent millions telling people to recycle, because, as one former top industry insider told NPR, selling recycling sold plastic, even if it wasn't true.

"If the public thinks that recycling is working, then they are not going to be as concerned about the environment," Larry Thomas, former president of the Society of the Plastics Industry, known today as the Plastics Industry Association and one of the industry's most powerful trade groups in Washington, D.C., told NPR.

Here's the basic problem: All used plastic can be turned into new things, but picking it up, sorting it out and melting it down is expensive. Plastic also degrades each time it is reused, meaning it can't be reused more than once or twice.

On the other hand, new plastic is cheap. It's made from oil and gas, and it's almost always less expensive and of better quality to just start fresh.

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by Anonymousreply 12Last Tuesday at 5:56 PM

I'm less enthused about recycling then ever before. FFS, get it out of the 'free market" dynamics and legislate some real re-use or bans, and I'm back onboard

by Anonymousreply 1Last Tuesday at 6:41 AM

I want a waste canister with a giant old fashioned metal crank on the side to grind plastic back into pellets. Several months worth of bottles would fit into a standard recycle bin and be easier for companies to reclaim.

by Anonymousreply 2Last Tuesday at 6:48 AM

The general agreement is that only paper and metal can recycling are real

by Anonymousreply 3Last Tuesday at 6:51 AM

Misled? Lied. Say it. Lied.

by Anonymousreply 4Last Tuesday at 6:53 AM


by Anonymousreply 5Last Tuesday at 7:34 AM

That's depressing

by Anonymousreply 6Last Tuesday at 7:36 AM

I've been hearing things for years about both plastic and glass not being recycled, though we wash it out, seperate it, rent additional containers for recycling it (in my partner's area). Very sad news indeed.

I once thought this was maligned information coming from non-recyclers. I've become better educated on the matter, and it is true virgin glass and plastic is cheaper to produce, and a better product. No one considers the energy required for recycling, the pollution the required energy creates., or the pollution resulting from the processing. We should attempt to reuse and wash both glass and plastic items. I think there is a justification for banning or phasing out all single use plastics.

by Anonymousreply 7Last Tuesday at 9:21 AM

This is why I give preference to metal and glass containers when I'm shopping.

by Anonymousreply 8Last Tuesday at 9:25 AM

[quote] Rogue Disposal & Recycling

The first mistake was trusting a company with this name.

by Anonymousreply 9Last Tuesday at 9:33 AM

What worse is, for much of America, when we wash out the plastics and such, we're using water heated by electricity, which is supplied to us via coal burning.

So, washing for recycling spread more green gasses.

by Anonymousreply 10Last Tuesday at 11:22 AM

R9, it's named after the Rogue river valley.

by Anonymousreply 11Last Tuesday at 11:38 AM

R10 You make a valid point, however most of us would not be willing to keep dirty or greasy plastic food containers for recycling if we didn't wash them. We don't use hot water, but wash them all thoroughlyi, and rinse out bottles and cans.

Recycling truck only picks them up twice a month, and we have too many raccoons which already get into our rubbish bins. Things such as this begin to stink after awhile, and the animals are drawn to it.

by Anonymousreply 12Last Tuesday at 5:56 PM
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