Just a Tiny Fraction of America’s Plastic Can Actually Be Recycled, Report Finds

Many of the plastic containers labeled as recyclable in the United States may not actually be recyclable, according to a new report from Greenpeace. The report, which analyzed waste processing data at the country’s 367 material recovery facilities, found that only PET #1 and HDPE #2 plastic bottles and jugs are being recycled with regularity. Plastics #3 through #7, while collected by municipal recycling programs, most often are “being sent to landfills or incinerated.”

The new research found that none of the United States’ 367 facilities are capable of processing coffee pods. Just 14 percent of them can process what are known as plastic clamshells, containers commonly used for takeout food, fruit, and baked goods. Just 11 percent of facilities can recycle plastic cups; 4 percent plastic bags; and just 1 percent can process plastic plates, cutlery, straws, and stirrers.

“This survey confirms what many news reports have indicated since China restricted plastic waste imports two years ago — that recycling facilities across the country are not able to sort, sell, and reprocess much of the plastic that companies produce,” Jan Dell, founder of The Last Beach Cleanup and leader of the new survey, said in a statement.

Greenpeace listed several companies that it says use misleading labels, including Target, Nestlé, Walmart, Procter & Gamble, Clorox, SC Johnson, and Unilever. As The Hill notes, the new report comes amid a congressional effort to ban some single-use plastic, as well as require manufacturers to use more recycled content in their packaging.