U.S. plastic recycling hit a high point recently — 3 billion pounds of bottles collected and recycled in 2014. One industry association noted, in releasing the data on Nov. 5, that it marked the continuation of 25 years of growth.
That is true, but it's only half the picture. If you take the same industry data and flip it upside down, you see that the amount of plastic bottles sent to landfill has stayed between 6.3 billion and 6.5 billion pounds a year since 2008.
So is it a record high in recycling? Or, because the amount of pollution and wasted resources from plastic bottles remains basically the same, is it stagnation?
I think it's both.
As the U.S. marks America Recycles Day on Nov. 15, we should also look at the waste we still generate.
In 2006, according to plastic industry data, about 2.2 billion pounds of plastic bottles were collected for recycling. That year, 7.1 billion pounds of plastic bottle material was wasted in landfills.
So there is progress. Judging from the plastics industry's reports, single-stream recycling in cities has increased the amount of containers recycled.
And with individual containers being manufactured lighter, with less plastic, the growth in pounds collected is more impressive because you have to collect more bottles to get the same pounds.