Recycling and the Importance of the Circular Economy

In a report published earlier this year by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 73% of the plastic used in the United States ends up in landfills. This statistic is both staggering and not surprising at the same time. Remember the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? That plastic has to come from somewhere, and it’s not surprising our economy is producing so much plastic waste. 

When most people think of recycling, they’re thinking of what they do at home, which can also be termed “downcycling”. The theory behind most municipal waste programs is that higher end plastics can be turned into lower end plastics (think your empty tub of detergent being turned into grocery bags). The problem is that most of these lower end plastic products are not made in the United States, and countries that do produce them have stopped taking the higher end plastics from other countries. As a consequence, only about 35% of the plastic thrown into recycling bins in the United States actually ends up being recycled. By some models, that 35% might be an incredibly generous estimation. These models suggest it is more like 6% of plastic that is actually recycled each year in the US. 

Ready for some good news? There’s another type of recycling occurring in the United States that doesn’t require downcycling: it’s called chemical recycling. A recent article in Forbes highlighted its role in the circular economy:

“Turning plastic waste back into base monomers and chemical feedstocks stands to dramatically improve recycling rates globally and reduce the alarming amount of plastic waste going into landfills or incinerators. Practical circular solutions like chemical recycling are the building blocks of a circular economy.”

Want some even better news? The building blocks of EPS foam are some of the most common and easily recycled polymers and monomers. At Plymouth Foam, and all of our Altor Solutions Companies, believe strongly in improving the circular nature of plastics. It’s one of the reasons we have a recycling center on site at our Plymouth location that’s open to the public. We want to see as much EPS foam as possible get recycled and reused. 

Wondering how to recycle the EPS foam in your home? Check out this video from the EPS Industry Alliance: