Gazette -Plastic Recycling Misinformation

At the recent NPE 2024 Plastics Show in Orlando, a company focused on promoting and applying recycled marine plastics approached our booth, inquiring whether we had PET bottle flakes or pellets from ocean recycling and HDPE milk bottle flakes or pellets. My straightforward response was, “There is not so much recycled ocean plastic granulate in the world.”


Firstly, if PET bottles are discarded into the sea, their density of 1.4 causes them to float on the water surface. However, when the bottles fill with water, they sink to the bottom of the sea and can never be salvaged, further polluting and harming marine life and ecosystems. Over years of exposure to sunlight and water erosion, these plastics break down into microplastics ranging in size from micrometers to millimeters, which are ingested by fish and other marine organisms, ultimately entering the human food chain. We have increasingly found microplastics in the aquatic food chain, and scientists have confirmed their harmful effects on health and carcinogenicity.


Currently, the only plastics being recovered from the ocean are fishing nets and ropes, with nylon fishing nets being particularly sought after by the recycling industry due to their higher value. However, some unrecovered ropes and nets, especially in developed countries such as Europe and the United States, are discarded into the natural environment due to high labor, logistics, and recycling costs, resulting in the price of the final product being higher than that of prime materials. Another issue is that many used ropes and fishing nets from ships, due to restrictions under the Basel Convention, cannot be freely exported or imported, leading to large amounts being abandoned on coastlines. I have personally witnessed this in Australia, Scandinavia, and North America, making me feel helpless. This pressing issue demands our attention and action and requires the support of the United Nations and countries worldwide to formulate policies to address it.


There are various types of plastics, and even with the efforts of volunteer groups to clean up plastic waste from waterways and oceans, there are limitations. Firstly, the amount that can be cleaned up is minimal. Secondly, only recyclable bottles can be identified, while other plastic waste can only be disposed of through landfilling or incineration. I have participated in such activities before, where 60 people spent a morning cleaning up over 200 kilograms of plastic, only to have it ultimately sent to a landfill. Brand companies often emphasize their support for using ocean-recycled materials. However, the recycled plastics they use come from recycling facilities near the coast and have no direct connection to ocean plastic waste. Consumers should be aware of this fact.



Original by Dr. Steve Wong       

May 23, 2024

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