Only 5 Percent of US Plastic Recycled Last Year 

A mere five percent of 51 million tons of U.S. plastic waste was recycled last year. Almost 95 percent of the 51 million tons of wrappers, bottles, and bags were dumped into landfills, oceans, or scattered into the atmosphere. 

A new study by the environmental advocacy group Greenpeace determined that only a little over 2 million tons of plastic waste was recycled last year. That means only about 5 percent of plastic waste was recycled in 2021. 

This shows a devastating decrease in recycling over the past few years. Recycling reached a high of 9.5 percent in 2014 and then decreased to 8.7 percent in 2018. 

The research also found that no American type of plastic packaging met the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Initiative’s definition of recyclable, which is where an item has a 30 percent recycling rate. 

Two of the most common forms of plastic in the U.S., polyethylene terephthalate and high-density polyethylene, are frequently referred to as recyclable. 

However, the reality is that despite their frequent delivery to recycling plants, these plastics are not actually recycled enough to meet the standard. 

The recycling rate of polyethylene terephthalate stands at about 20.9 percent, and the recycling rate for high-density polyethylene is at about 10.3 percent. The reprocessing rate for all other forms of plastic is lower still, at under 5 percent. 

“Single-use plastics are like trillions of pieces of confetti spewed from retail and fast food stores to over 330 million U.S. residents across more than 3 million square miles each year. It’s simply not possible to collect the vast quantity of these small pieces of plastic sold to U.S. consumers annually,” Greenpeace USA Senior Plastics Campaigner Lisa Ramsden said in a statement. 

Ramsden said that more plastic is being produced with an even smaller percentage being recycled. 

“The crisis just gets worse and worse, and, without drastic change, will continue to worsen as the industry plans to triple plastic production by 2050,” Ramsden said.

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