It’s hard to get everybody to recycle paper and plastic, let alone.”

Richard Karn, Actor

Pros and Cons of Plastic Recycling

advantages and disadvantages of plastic recycling

Plastic waste has become quite a big environmental problem. Large areas of our oceans are already covered by plastic waste and if we continue like that, chances are that we will significantly harm and even destroy many ecosystems around the world. Hence, it is crucial to take actions to deal with our plastic waste in a proper manner.

One way to do so is to recycle plastics. However, apart from the many advantages of plastic recycling, there are also some issues related to this concept.

In order to give you a better impression of the true effects of plastic recycling, all pros and cons of plastic recycling are examined in the following.

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Advantages of Plastic Recycling

  1. Less plastic waste has to be burned
  2. Less plastic waste will end up in landfills
  3. Lower level of soil pollution
  4. Can reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  5. Plastic recycling can help to protect our oceans
  6. Important to protect the natural habitats of many animals and plants
  7. Crucial to reduce the problem of microplastics
  8. Plastic recycling can help us to use our natural resources more efficiently
  9. Plastic recycling is important to improve your overall health
  10. Can help to protect the poorest among us
  11. Recycled plastics can be used for a huge variety of different purposes
  12. Can lower the negative effects of plastic pollution on tourism
  13. Plastic recycling industry can create jobs

Less plastic waste has to be burned

One key advantage of plastic recycling is that less waste has to be burned. Through the burning of waste, large amounts of harmful gases are emitted into our atmosphere, which leads to serious levels of air and particle pollution.

Hence, in order to improve our overall air quality and our health levels, we may want to improve your plastic recycling processes since through recycling, fewer harmful gases have to be emitted into our atmosphere.

Less plastic waste will end up in landfills

Another way to get rid of our plastic waste and plastic pollution instead of burning it is to dispose of it in landfills. However, those landfills often do not look pretty at all and also emit high levels of unpleasant smell, which can be quite annoying for the local population as well as for tourists.

Thus, in order to reduce the need for landfills, plastic recycling can also help in this regard since more plastic can be reused and recycled instead of just dumped into those landfills.

Lower level of soil pollution

If waste ends up in landfills, it does not only emit significant smell, it also leads to serious soil pollution. The plastic waste that is disposed into landfills will decompose sooner or later and harmful chemicals will be washed into our soil.

Over time, those chemicals will also be washed through the soil into our groundwater, which can be detrimental, especially in regions where clean water already is a scarce resource.

Hence, plastic recycling can also be a great way to protect our soil and our groundwater from serious pollution.

Can reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Another benefit of plastic recycling is that it can also help to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. If more plastics are recycled, fewer new plastics have to be produced and the overall amount of greenhouse gases can be lowered due to that. In turn, lower greenhouse gas emissions also imply that we can slow down global warming to a certain extent.

Plastic recycling can help to protect our oceans

Many of us may not know it yet, but our oceans are already heavily polluted and large areas of the ocean surface are covered by plastics. Consequently, we urgently have to solve the problem of plastic waste somehow in order to protect our oceans.

Plastic recycling can also help us in this regard since if we are able to recycle more plastics, a lower fraction of our overall plastic waste will end up in our oceans.

Important to protect the natural habitats of many animals and plants

If we continue to use plastics as we did for a few decades, chances are that many of our animal and plant species will become endangered or even extinct in the near future. Hence, it is crucial that we protect the natural habitats of those animals and plants. This means that we have to make sure that less plastic waste will end up in our oceans and in other natural environments.

In order to achieve this goal, we all have to lower our plastic consumption. Moreover, we can further make a positive impact by making our plastic available for recycling.

Crucial to reduce the problem of microplastics

Microplastics are another big problem that has become worse over the past years. Microplastics form when plastic bottles or other plastic items decompose. Those microplastics can not only harm fishes and other animals that will consume those microplastics, they can also be detrimental to human health since through the food chain, part of those microplastics will also end up in our bodies sooner or later.

Thus, it is crucial that we reduce our plastic waste through the use of plastic recycling methods in order to avoid the production of large amounts of microplastics in our oceans.

Plastic recycling can help us to use our natural resources more efficiently

Plastic is also made out of fossil fuels which will become depleted sooner or later. Therefore, in order to use our natural resources as efficiently as possible, it is crucial that we recycle our plastics on a large scale.

Plastic recycling is important to improve your overall health

The recycling of plastics can also improve our overall health levels. Plastic waste is a significant environmental problem and if we are not able to reduce our plastic waste production, our oceans will become increasingly polluted.

Since many of us consume seafood, also our health may suffer quite a lot since we will consume harmful plastic components through the food chain as well.

Can help to protect the poorest among us

Large amounts of plastic waste are also shipped to poor developing countries on a regular basis through the concept of environmental dumping. Thus, in order to protect the poor waste-receiving countries from excessive loads of waste, we should try to recycle as much plastic as possible.

Recycled plastics can be used for a huge variety of different purposes

There is a huge variety of different purposes for which recycled plastics can be used. Hence, we can produce all kinds of recycled products in order to reduce the amount of plastics that have to be burned or disposed into landfills.

Can lower the negative effects of plastic pollution on tourism

Plastic pollution is also detrimental to the tourism industry. Many people want to spend their vacation at nice clean beaches instead of polluted ones. Hence, plastic recycling can also help the tourism industry quite a lot since less plastic will end up in our oceans if more plastic is recycled.

Plastic recycling industry can create jobs

There are also many jobs related to plastic recycling. Thus, if we expand plastic recycling on a global scale, chances are that many people in poor developing countries may get additional job opportunities, which can not only help our environment but also those people to increase their overall wealth and to get out of poverty.

Disadvantages of Plastic Recycling

  1. People often do not separate their waste in a proper manner
  2. Plastic recycling processes are often quite inefficient
  3. Some items are not recyclable at all
  4. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are released into the atmosphere
  5. Melting plastic waste requires significant amounts of energy
  6. Plastic recycling can be time-consuming
  7. Jobs in plastic recycling are often carried out by unskilled workers
  8. May not be economically reasonable in some cases
  9. May give people a flawed incentive to buy more plastic products
  10. Plastics can only be recycled a few times
  11. Recycled plastic may be of lower quality

People often do not separate their waste in a proper manner

One problem with plastic recycling is that people often do not separate their plastic waste properly and therefore, the plastic recycling process will be far less efficient. Hence, if you buy plastics on a regular basis, at least make sure that you separate your waste properly in order to make it suitable for recycling.

Plastic recycling processes are often quite inefficient

Depending on the country, plastic recycling processes may not have yet been optimized yet and chances are that in some countries, those recycling processes may be rather inefficient and may even do more harm than good.

Some items are not recyclable at all

Many of our plastics that we use on a daily basis will also not be suitable for recycling at all. Therefore, the overall fraction of plastics that are suitable for plastic recycling may be rather low and thus, plastic recycling may not be able to make a significant impact to solve our environmental problems.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are released into the atmosphere

Another downside of plastic recycling is that in the recycling process of those plastics, significant amounts of VOCs are emitted into our atmosphere, which can also be quite harmful to human health.

Melting plastic waste requires significant amounts of energy

In order to recycle plastics, they often have to be melted. However, this melting process also requires the use of plenty of energy and therefore, the true positive effect of plastic recycling may be rather limited.

Plastic recycling can be time-consuming

It can also be rather time-consuming to make plastic waste suitable for proper recycling. Many times, workers have to separate the waste in a manual manner and quite often, the juice is not worth the squeeze at all.

Jobs in plastic recycling are often carried out by unskilled workers

Although the plastic recycling industry may offer many job opportunities, those jobs are often carried out by unskilled workers which often only earn quite poor wages. Hence, those jobs may not be suitable to get people out of poverty since the salaries may simply be far too low to accomplish this goal.

May not be economically reasonable in some cases

Many plastic items may also not be recyclable in an economically reasonable manner. In many cases, it would cost more to recycle plastics than to just produce it from scratch. In turn, this will take away the incentive for firms to engage in proper plastic recycling and the expansion of the concept of plastic recycling may be greatly slowed down due to this problem.

May give people a flawed incentive to buy more plastic products

Many people also think that if they buy recyclable plastics, they do something good for our planet. While it is better to buy recyclable plastic instead of conventional ones, the use of those plastics is still not good for our environment at all and you should still avoid using plastics as often as possible, even though those plastics might be recyclable since there are still many materials out there which are far less damaging to our planet.

Hence, many people may also get a wrong impression regarding the true impact of recyclable plastics on our environment, which may even lead people to buy more plastic products instead of less.

Plastics can only be recycled a few times

Plastics can also not be recycled into perpetuity. At one point in time, plastics will no longer be suitable for recycling and therefore, the concept of plastic recycling only works to a certain extent.

Recycled plastic may be of lower quality

Some products that are made out of recycled plastics may also be of lower quality compared to products made out of new plastics. Hence, make sure to inform yourself before buying products that have been manufactured from recycled plastics.

Top 10 Plastic Recycling Pros & Cons – Summary List

Plastic Recycling ProsPlastic Recycling Cons
Plastic recycling can lower emissionsOnly a small fraction of plastics are recyclable
Can help to reduce soil pollution People often do not separate their waste
Plastic recycling can protect our groundwaterPlastic recycling is often quite inefficient
Can help to preserve our natural habitatsVOCs can be emitted into the atmosphere
More efficient resource usePlastic recycling needs some energy input
Plastic recycling can protect our oceansMay do more harm than good
Important to solve the microplastics issueEmploys mostly unskilled workers
Can help to improve our overall health levelLimited plastic recycling loops
Can help to avoid environmental dumpingRecycled products may be of lower quality
Plastic recycling industry creates jobsPlastic recycling may be time-consuming

Should We Recycle Plastics?

As we have seen before, there are many reasons why you should recycle plastics. Yet, plastic recycling will not be sufficient to solve all our environmental problems.

You should also make sure to avoid buying plastic products as often as possible so that we can reduce our plastic waste production on a global scale.

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plastic_recycling

https://www.recyclenow.com/recycle-plastic-fantastic

https://www.plasticsmakeitpossible.com/plastics-recycling/how-to-recycle/recycle-more-plastics-these-tips-help-make-it-easy/

About the author

My name is Andreas and my mission is to educate people of all ages about our environmental problems and how everyone can make a contribution to mitigate these issues.

As I went to university and got my Master’s degree in Economics, I did plenty of research in the field of Development Economics.

After finishing university, I traveled around the world. From this time on, I wanted to make a contribution to ensure a livable future for the next generations in every part of our beautiful planet.

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