Recycling is not enough. Collecting, sorting, and recycling plastic can be part of our solution to this worldwide crisis, but this solution is unlike to ever be done at the scale and consistency needed to meaningfully address the billions of tons of plastic being produced and discarded every year.
Despite decades of infrastructure improvements, technology development, and public education efforts, worldwide recycling rates for post-consumer plastics still hover around 9%.
Single-use plastic products are largely not designed with recycling in mind after their intended use; frequently, the plastic resin used to make single-use product is not produced at a high enough quality to even be recycled. So the two ends of the waste stream - production and collection - are not effectively or efficiently mitigating the problem.
The market for post-consumer recycled plastic resin is also inextricably linked to the market for oil: When the price of oil is low, it is significantly cheaper to produce virgin plastic resin then to collect and process post-consumer plastic for recycling, so demand for recycled resin plummets.
As waste management is a local, publicly-managed issue (while plastic production is a centralized, privately-owned process), tens of thousands of jurisdictions worldwide are expected to independently develop waste collection systems and contracts with recyclers and haulers, which creates massive inconsistency from one region to the next.
PPC partner and member Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) have released significant reporting on the impact and reach of recycling, most recently in their Recycling Is Not Enough Report (2018).