Does recycling actually make a difference? New report details how there's a 'plastic waste crisis'

Elyse Smith Image
Tuesday, May 7, 2024
New report details how there's a 'plastic waste crisis'
A new report claims that the plastic industry and major oil companies have known for decades that recycling is not a solution for managing waste.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Last week, ABC13 Meteorologist Elyse Smith reported on how the City of Houston manages recycling. One question from that report was about the validity of plastic recycling. Some plastic was turned away even with the recycle symbol on the item.

A report released in February 2024 from the Center For Climate Integrity, a non-profit research group, claims that plastic recycling is not what it seems.

The report, titled "The Fraud of Plastic Recycling," claims specifically that the plastics industry and major oil companies have known for decades that recycling for plastics is not a solution for managing plastic waste.

ABC13 spoke to Davis Allen, one of the investigative researchers for the Center For Climate Integrity, about their report.

"When companies produce all of this plastic (and) are continuing to constantly expand production of plastic products, they know that ultimately all of that plastic waste will either end up in a landfill incinerated or in the environment," Allen said.

READ MORE: How does Houston manage recycling? ABC13 gets insight on the process

That plastic waste has made headlines in the past few years thanks to reports on microplastics and ocean plastics.

The EPA reports that over 35 million tons of plastic were generated in the United States in 2018, and only 8.7% were recycled. An example of that ration is if you were to buy a 24-pack of bottled water, only two bottles would be recycled.

Furthermore, the Center For Climate Integrity also claims that a big part of the plastic industry's success came from media campaigns that tricked the public into thinking plastic is just as recyclable as other materials such as paper and aluminum.

The report points to several campaigns that began in the 1950s and continue today.

Davis told ABC13 that the plastic industry used these commercial campaigns to make consumers responsible for using less plastic instead of taking accountability for making it.

"The entire framing of individuals needing to solve this problem is basically what the industry has promoted as part of this campaign to convince us that recycling was a viable solution," Davis said.

Those campaigns have worked. When ABC13 spoke to Mark Wilfalk, the director of solid waste management for the city, he mentioned the simple steps he had taken to reduce his plastic consumption.

This is good, but it is precisely what the Center for Climate Integrity claims the plastic industry wants.

"It's possible that collectively, we can reduce our consumption while at the same time repurposing some of the materials that we must use (and) become dependent on," Wilfalk said.

Major oil companies claim to have technology to recycle plastic. ABC13 asked for access to see what these companies do, but Eyewitness News had been denied or has yet to hear back.

For more on this story, follow Elyse Smith on Facebook, X and Instagram.