Is recycling plastic one big lie?


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Photo credit: Laura Sullivan/NPR

It doesn’t matter where you are. Much of the plastic you recycle is buried or burned. Also, it often costs more to recycle than to dispose of the same materials as garbage. This may sound like a conspiracy theory because the belief in recycling plastic has been instilled in us since preschool. It remains an unchallenged cardinal rule in our education, especially due to our efforts to reduce pollution and combat climate change in any way we can.


Just this April, California’s attorney general opened an investigation into the possible role industries have played in promoting the idea that plastics could be recycled to manipulate the public to buy more of it: 


“For more than half a century, the plastics industry has engaged in an aggressive campaign to deceive the public, perpetuating a myth that recycling can solve the plastics crisis,” Attorney General Rob Bonta said. “The truth is: The vast majority of plastic cannot be recycled.”

「半個多世紀以來,塑膠產業不斷在積極開展欺騙大眾的活動,讓資源回收可解決塑膠危機的神話歷久不衰。」司法部長 Rob Bonta 說道。「事實是:絕大多數的塑膠無法回收。」

The announcement cited NPR and the PBS series Frontline’s 2020 investigation into the oil and gas industry, which uncovered documents showing top officials knew that recycling plastic was unlikely to work but spent tens of millions of dollars telling the public the opposite. Starting in the 1980s, the industry launched dozens of ads, nonprofits, and campaigns touting the benefits of recycling plastic – and placing the responsibility on consumers – even as their own documents warned that recycling was “infeasible” and that there was “serious doubt” that plastic recycling “can ever be made viable on an economic basis,” the investigation found.


In a statement, ExxonMobil said it rejects the allegations made by the California attorney general, and highlighted that it is the first company to use what it referred to as an “advanced recycling technology” to recycle used plastic.

埃克森美孚(ExxonMobil)在一份聲明中表示,它不接受加州司法部長的指控,並強調它是第一家使用其所謂「先進回收技術」(advanced recycling technology)來回收廢棄塑膠的公司。

What is the recycling situation like in your country? Has recycling been effective in reducing waste and pollution in your city? Or have we been consuming more plastic and producing more waste because we think our recycling is helping us save the Earth? Reducing our use of plastic, rather than JUST recycling, is most likely the answer—that, and holding government officials and corporations responsible for these policies.

你所處國家的資源回收情況如何?資源回收是否有效地減少了你所在城市的廢棄物與污染?或是,我們認為回收再利用幫助人類拯救了地球,因此我們仍舊不斷地消耗更多的塑膠並產生更多的廢棄物?減少我們對塑膠的使用——而非僅依賴資源回收——才最有可能是正解。 當然,我們也要讓政府官員與企業對這些政策負責。