Can My Recycling End Up in Landfill?
Unfortunately, yes. Some plastics intended for recycling end up in landfill.
We have read that recycling is the best way to handle plastic waste. Read the article about this https://www.naraloca.com/post/recycle-incinerate-or-landfill.
However, what we intend to recycle will sometimes end up in landfill.
There are several reasons why this can occur:
In most countries, some share of plastics intended for recycling are eventually rejected at local or regional waste handling facilities. The most common reason for rejected recycling is the ‘contamination’ of recycling streams — this can result from high concentrations of non-recyclable items in the waste stream, or contamination of other forms such as food waste. Even in cases where plastic contamination could be dealt within, it is sometimes more economically-feasible to divert some loads to landfill. Processing costs of poorly-sorted or contaminated plastic loads are more expensive, in some cases outweighing profits from recycled materials.The rate of ‘rejected recycling’ can vary significantly between countries depending on recycling policies, targets and the effectiveness of recycling separation methods (either at the household and local collection level, or at waste handling facilities). For a sense of scale, latest figures For England estimate that between 3 to 4 percent of total household recycling (which is plastics but also paper, metals etc.) was rejected and sent to landfill or incineration. In relative terms, this share is relatively low but could be improved through better understanding of how to avoid contamination of plastic recycling streams.
As we describe in our full Plastics entry, recycled plastic is a globally traded commodity. The majority of major exporters are high-income countries. If we look at the top ten exporting countries over the period from 1988 to 2016, we see that collectively they account for 78 percent of global plastic exports (as shown in the chart below). All of the top ten exporters are defined as high-income. Collectively, they have exported 168 million tonnes over this period, equivalent to an economic value of US$65 billion. China has been the world’s largest plastic importer. Collectively, China and Hong Kong have imported 72.4 percent of all plastic waste (with most imports to Hong Kong eventually reaching China). In 2017, China introduced a ban on non-industrial plastic imports in part because of the levels of contaminated plastics in countries’ export stream. Some of this imported plastic therefore ended up in landfill (and possibly at risk of entering the ocean).It’s challenging to track the ultimate fate of traded plastics, however it’s likely that at least some of recycled plastics exported from high-income countries enters landfill in the countries to which they are traded.
Following China’s ban on imported plastic in 2017, previous large exporters such as the United States, Canada, Australia and UK have failed to handle the increase in domestic plastic recycling demand. As such, some materials intended for recycling have subsequently been diverted to landfill.
Plastics typically degrade in quality during the recycling process. For most recyclable plastics, they are typically only suitable for recycling once. As a result, most recycled plastic we use eventually reaches landfill, even if it goes through an additional use cycle as another product. Recycling typically delays rather than prevents plastic disposal to landfill or incineration.
Nara Loca Abadi is a recycled plastic specialist that concerned about the earth and environment by promoting the use of recycled PET flakes, recycled PET chips, recycled PP & HDPE granules to various plastic and polyester manufacturers.