Increasing recycling rates in the United States presents a significant opportunity to address the growing issue of plastic waste. Plastics have become an integral part of our daily lives, but the current pattern of their usage and disposal leads to substantial waste that often ends up in landfills. The need for action is highlighted by a report from environmental groups, Last Beach Clean Up and Beyond Plastics, which reveals a decline in the plastic waste recycling rate from 8.7% in 2018 to a mere 5% to 6% in 2021.
The Challenge of Recycling Rates and Plastic Waste Management
This decline in recycling rates is closely tied to the reduction in plastic waste exports, which were previously counted towards the recycling rate. China’s decision to limit plastic imports in 2017 prompted Western countries to redirect their plastic exports to nations like Indonesia and Malaysia. However, these countries subsequently implemented bans or restrictions on imports in 2019, leading to a significant decrease of around 70% in U.S. plastic exports.
Even before the plastic waste export ban, the U.S. struggled to manage 90% of its plastic waste, with most of it ending up in landfills or being incinerated for energy. This percentage has now risen to 95% in 2021, with 84% being landfilled and 11% incinerated. The remaining fraction is either domestically recycled or exported. The situation is exacerbated by the increasing plastic waste per capita, driven by population growth.
However, this challenge presents a compelling opportunity for industries to actively contribute to the improvement of plastic waste reprocessing. To make substantial contributions, investments in deploying innovative technologies that facilitate efficient sorting processes are imperative. The National Lubricant Container Recycling Coalition (NLCRC) emerges as a pivotal player in fostering advancements in recycling rates and facilitating the transition of the lubricant container sector towards a circular economy.
NLCRC’s Recycling Efforts
In the short term, the NLCRC is actively working to create an enabling environment that overcomes barriers and promotes advanced recycling of lubricant containers throughout the United States. While government involvement is crucial in establishing a new circular economy where plastic waste is minimized or eliminated, industry collaboration is equally vital. This collaborative approach ensures the development of additional collection and recycling infrastructure, ultimately bolstering the country’s plastic waste recycling rate.
It is imperative that all stakeholders, from industries to households, recognize their essential role in reducing the lubricant container waste problem in the U.S. The NLCRC’s founding leaders, including prominent organizations such as Plastipak Packaging, Castrol, Pennzoil – Quaker State Company, Valvoline, Graham Packaging, Berry Global, Chevron, and the Petroleum Packaging Council, exemplify the commitment of industry leaders to tackle this pressing issue.
By joining forces, industry leaders and stakeholders across the nation can pave the way for transformative change. The NLCRC serves as a catalyst for collaboration, driving innovation, and establishing a sustainable recycling ecosystem for lubricant containers. The organization says significant strides toward achieving a circular economy, where plastic waste is no longer a burden but a valuable resource that contributes to a cleaner, greener future.