Written by Corinne Newman

 We have talked about the plastic recycling industry, but the recycling industry only makes up a small fraction of global plastic waste—only about 9% of all plastic waste has ended up being properly recycled. What happens to the other 91% of plastic waste? What doesn’t end up being mismanaged and lost along the way often becomes a part of a local landfill or shipped across countries to be taken care of in other places. 

           Landfills are not the same as a dump. A dump in a continued growing unmanaged pile of waste of all sorts. While landfills can be heavily regulated and managed. Often starting as a dug-out plot of plant that is lined with protective sheets in order to prevent any possible chemicals from the waste from leaking into the soil and causing negative effects. Landfills are thought out and layered. After one layer of waste is spread out, there will be a layer of soil placed on top. This is in order to mimic a more natural environment for the waste to decompose and break down. Some landfills double those of energy producers. It has piping placed along its many layers in order to collect the methane gas that is naturally produced in the decomposing process. This methane gas is used as fuel in various different ways. Landfills are excellent ways to manage trash, but plastics can at times still cause an issue for them. The number of plastics outweighs the amount of space that landfills can reasonably hold. 

           Some countries don’t have the resources or motivation to manage their plastic waste. Often, countries export their waste to a country that values its ability to make a profit from processing said waste. It’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it is important to do something concrete with the waste to avoid mismanagement and pollution. But on the other hand, shipping large amounts of waste around the world has its own environmental challenges. The large shipment uses lots of fuel that causes the release of greenhouse gases. As well as the possibility of flyaway waste that litters the environment on its way to its destination. 

           Plastics almost by design are incredibly difficult to handle when it comes to properly disposing of them. The benefit that comes with their resistance to decomposition turns into a detriment when that ends up vastly outliving its purpose. The complex chemical makeup of different types of plastics that allow them to be so versatile and have different properties for different uses makes sorting through and recycling the different types a massive hassle and labor cost, deterring companies from beefing up their recycling abilities. And I think most evidently, the easily mass-produced nature that makes them cheap and readily available for a company to utilize is exactly what is causing this over-saturation of plastic waste. 

Photo by Katie Rodriguez on Unsplash

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