Is Recycling an Economical Solution?


For decades, the plastics industry has touted recycling as a solution to the growing problem of waste, convincing both consumers and policymakers that it could prevent plastic from filling landfills and polluting the environment. However, a recent report by the Center for Climate Integrity reveals that industry insiders, including major oil and gas companies, have long doubted recycling’s viability as a waste management strategy.

This revelation comes from documents dating back to the inception of the recycling movement. At a 1989 conference, the head of the Vinyl Institute openly admitted that recycling was not an infinite solution nor an answer to the solid waste dilemma. It seems that recycling often costs more than producing new plastic, rendering it financially unfeasible.

Despite these economic hurdles, the plastics industry has continued to promote recycling, primarily for its public relations benefits. A note from a 1994 meeting between an Exxon Chemical vice president and the American Plastics Council staff demonstrates the commitment to recycling activities without a genuine commitment to achieving environmental goals.

In response to the report, Ross Eisenberg, president of America’s Plastic Makers, criticized its reliance on outdated information and accused it of undermining the industry’s efforts toward sustainability. He emphasized the industry’s target for all U.S. plastic packaging to be reused, recycled, or recovered by 2040, portraying a forward-looking stance on plastic waste management.

The report, titled “The Fraud of Plastic Recycling,” builds on previous investigations that have highlighted the industry’s promotion of recycling despite skepticism about its effectiveness. Less than 10% of global plastic waste is recycled, with the vast majority continuing to contribute to environmental pollution. Critics argue that the recycling narrative has been a tactic to boost plastic sales while avoiding regulations.

As the world grapples with the plastic waste crisis, the United Nations is preparing for negotiations on a global plastics treaty, aiming for a comprehensive approach to plastic pollution. However, there are concerns that the plastics and fossil fuel industries may influence the treaty’s focus, pushing for waste management solutions over reductions in plastic production.

Industry efforts, such as ExxonMobil’s investment in advanced recycling technologies, are presented as solutions to the plastic waste problem. Yet, skeptics question the effectiveness and environmental impact of these technologies, pointing out that the fundamental economics of plastic recycling remain unchanged.

The controversy surrounding plastic recycling underscores a broader debate on environmental responsibility and the need for accountability in addressing the plastic waste crisis.

US Treasury Department to Expand Tax Credit Eligibility for Electric Vehicle (EV) Chargers

The Biden administration recently released guidelines to expand eligibility for tax credits aimed at reducing the costs of installing electric vehicle (EV) chargers. This move is part of a broader effort to make EV chargers more accessible and affordable for Americans, supporting the administration’s goal of electric vehicles comprising 50% of new car sales by 2030.

Due to uncertainty over which locations would qualify for tax credit, as the chargers were required to be in non-urban or low-income areas, the new guidelines broadened eligibility. The Treasury Department will now cover areas where about two-thirds of the U.S. population resides, primarily outside major cities.

Businesses and consumers who install chargers for either public or private use, will receive a tax credit covering up to 30% of the installation cost. Clean energy supporters project that this will boost the installation of chargers, particularly in communities needing them the most. While EV sales have risen faster than other major car category, they have still not met the expected demand. Some car manufacturers have therefore reduced production. In an effort to broaden the adoption of EVs, these tax credits will increase the number of chargers available across the country.  

The federal government is not only offering up to $7,500 in tax credits for each electric vehicle but is also investing billions in developing a national network of high-speed chargers. The rollout of this network has been slower than expected.

Experts like Luke Tonachel of the Natural Resources Defense Council believe the new guidance will accelerate the deployment of charging infrastructure. Albert Gore III of the Zero Emission Transportation Association also views this as a positive step towards attracting investments in rural and lower-income communities, significantly enhancing public charging availability.

Recycled Footwear Takes a Step Forward

Rothy’s, the American eco-friendly shoe brand, has gotten a significant investment from the owner of Havaianas. Based in San Francisco, California, and valued at $1 billion, Rothy’s also produces purses, bags, wallets, and men’s loafers, all from recycled and marine plastic.

Over the last few years, investors and customers have paid more attention to the environmental and social impact of the companies they back or buy. AllBirds, another sustainable shoe and fashion company, made a 2021 IPO valued at $4 billion.

Rothy’s was founded by Stephen Hawthornthwaite, chief executive, and Roth Martin, president. They remain significant owners and are involved in operational oversight.

Reducing America’s Carbon Footprint

In an effort to alleviate its universal carbon impact, over the next 10 years Delta airlines will be investing $1 billion into fuel-efficient aircrafts, replacing single-use plastics with a greener substance and more.   Ed Bastian, the firm’s Chief Executive pointed out that:

“There’s no challenge we face that is in greater need of innovation than environmental sustainability, and we know there is no single solution.”

The current situation is that it has been very hard for airlines to help preserve the environment since the development and supply of biofuels is minimal and challenging.  While technology has advanced so greatly in other parts of the transportation industry, the air travel part lags behind and we are not witnessing any futuristic fuel-efficient planes.  Still, Delta is committed to making an impact.

Meanwhile, in California researchers might be closer to a solution.  At the Viterbi School of Engineering in Southern California’s University, work is being undertaken in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. A metal carbide nanoparticle has been discovered as having the capacity to  convert CO2 into fuel.  Should this actualize it would be the first ever time a would be able to produce sustainably at low temperature resulting in the production of particles at a low cost, but industrial scale, while at the same time having a substantially lesser impact on the environment, ultimately diminishing greenhouse emissions throughout the world.

Oil Growth Takes a New Path

With constant and increasing talk of climate change and environmental preservation and moves away from oil and gas related products, major firms are increasing their manufacturing of plastic products.  These firms include ExxonMobil and Shell.

Given that petrochemicals (the chemical materials that derived from petroleum through a process of refining) now makes up to 14 percent of the use of oil, it is anticipated that there will be a doubling of the production of plastic over the next two decades.  Indeed, according to Steven Feit, Staff Attorney on the Climate and Energy Program at the Center for International and Environmental Law (CIEL) said:

 “In the context of a world trying to shift off of fossil fuels as an energy source, this is where [oil and gas companies] see the growth.  [As such these large corporations] are looking for a way to monetize it.  You can think of plastic as a kind of subsidy for fracking.”

in addition, today natural-gas futures dropped to their nadir in almost four years.  plummeting below $2 million British thermal units the drop resulted in a 5.4 percent dive to $1.895 per MMBtu.  This is simultaneous to the explosion in shale which has revolutionized the entire energy industry in America, inundating the market with natural gas and oil.  Predictions by the US Energy Information Administration include an increase of 2.9 percent this year in the production of dry natural gas.