The US Sucks at Recycling & Indonesia is Paying Fishers to Collect Ocean Plastic

Welcome to Shark Bite #21. Jackpot!

The US sucks at recycling

Americans set a record last year, discarding 51 million tons of plastic. That’s not a record we should be proud of. Bad news – that’s not even the worst part of it.

The worst part is that only 5% of the plastic waste was actually recycled, meaning 95% of it (~48.5 million tons) ended up in landfills, the ocean, or somewhere else it wasn't supposed to be. 

Despite a growing trend in sustainable and zero-waste living, the US has been getting worse at recycling for years. We had our best year in 2014 when 9.5% of all plastic was recycled. Still, that’s not exactly a number to write home about. 

So how are we getting worse?

Well, a few reasons.

1. Over 90% of Americans support recycling, but only 59% have access to curbside recycling services. 
 

2. And even though almost 60% of Americans have access to curbside recycling, only 32% of us actually recycle. 

3. There are thousands of types of plastic. And unfortunately, the necessary infrastructure simply does not exist to collect, sort, and process the various types. 

4. So instead, we ship our plastic overseas to Southeast Asia and count it as “recycled.” It’s cheaper and lets the US off the hook (that’s bad, obviously). Even worse, these countries don’t have the infrastructure either. So we ship it away just so it can end up in the ocean on another country's shores. 

TLDR; Plastic isn't really recyclable, largely due to the lack of infrastructure.  

There isn’t a single type of plastic packaging in the US that meets the definition of recyclable used by the FTC.

If you’re now wondering “why should I recycle at all?” you’re not alone. We’re right there with you. Ultimately, the best thing you can do is practice the other 2 R’s you learned in elementary school – reuse and refill. 

This is also why we switched from using recycled plastic in our apparel to organic cotton - it's better for you and the planet. If you want to learn more about the switch, here's the full story

Indonesia to pay fishers to clean up ocean plastic

Indonesia launched a pilot program to help curb its marine plastic pollution by 70% by 2025. The program will pay fishermen to collect plastic from the oceans, up to $10/ week for collecting up to 9 pounds of plastic/day from the ocean.

If you're thinking that $10/week is not a lot of money, you're right. The average monthly wage in Indonesia is just under $200/month. I won’t dive any deeper into the economics of this - that’s a conversation for another time.

Moving on.

The pilot program ran for the entirety of October – we’re still waiting to see the results. But if effective, the government will invest in the program over the long term.

We’re happy to see this plan in action. But based on the problems with recycling that we just covered, we’re not really sure how this will all shake out. 

Hope you have a great week :)

Kai

Co-Founder

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