In the 1980s, a rising tide of consumer concern grew over the environmental impact of using and disposing of large amounts of plastic. The versatile material was becoming a target as landfills grew and the possibility of bans entered the conversation. Throughout the decade and beyond, the plastic industry spent millions of dollars in an attempt to alleviate concerns and implemented recycling projects as a centerpiece of this campaign. New reports now show that industry insiders by-and-large did not have high hopes for recycling, nor did they particularly care. Larry Thomas, former President of the Society for the Plastics Industry told PBS Front line this year that the general sentiment was “If the public thinks the recycling is working, then they’re not going to be as concerned about the environment.” Over the past 40 years, it is estimated that only 10% of plastics have been successfully recycled. Currently just over 30% of bottles such as those for laundry detergent, shampoo and soap, and condiments get recycled and turned into new products. Despite this regrettable start, recycling is considered by many to be a key part of protecting our resources and the environment so it’s important to know why recycling is such as challenge and what can be done. After you place your recycling bin on the curb, the items are taken to a recycling center where they are sorted and made into compressed bales. These bales are then sold to companies who wish to turn the recyclables into a variety of consumer goods. As straight-forward as this sounds, it is far from perfect science. A variety of products are not suitable for curbside pick-up and instead need to be sent to specific companies or returned to grocery stores in order to go through the proper channels. Other materials don’t have a market so turning them into the compressed bales noted above isn’t economically sound. Other packages, such as potato chip bags or deodorant containers are made from so many materials that separating them isn’t feasible. Additionally, many neighborhoods and localities do not have recycling curbside pick-up at all, putting all the weight on consumers to correctly sort the items, research facilities where they can be deposited, and then deliver the recyclables on their own. As consumers, we need to demand that businesses are bearing the brunt of responsibility. Products should be made with the end in mind and leaders should consider all aspects of a product’s life-cycle. Products and packaging should be made from materials that are recyclable or biodegradable to the most feasible extent and ideally made with longevity, not disposability in mind. Additionally, communities need to continue to advocate for curbside recycling so that items that can be recycled are. As individuals, we can support businesses that work towards these sustainability goals and thoughtfully chose the items that purchase. We did not arrive at this moment overnight, nor will we meet our goals overnight. With small steps, we can all work together help our earth and its inhabitants. Sources https://www.npr.org/2020/03/31/822597631/plastic-wars-three-takeaways-from-the-fight-over-the-future-of-plastics https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/plastics-material-specific-data https://apps.npr.org/plastics-recycling/ Christina Dietrich @christinad0889Christina is a Kindergarten teacher who is passionate about teaching young child how to care for the environment and cultivating eco-friendly habits within her own life. Her experiences have allowed her to visit and learn about conservation efforts around the world, at places including Grand Teton NP, the Galapagos in Ecuador, and Las Terrazas in Cuba. She lives with her husband and corgi in Northern Virginia.