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June 5th, 2023

Unintended Consequences of Plastic Recycling

According to an article in Smithsonian Magazine, in March of 2022, in a paper published in Environment International, researchers found plastic in the blood of 17 of 22 of study participants, or about 77 percent. Plastic particles have been found in sea life and human waste and now in human blood.

In further studies, the article states "Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), commonly used in disposable water bottles, was the most widely encountered plastic polymer and found in about 50 percent of the donors. The second most common, polystyrene (PS), which is used for food packaging and polystyrene foam, was found in about 36 percent, per the study." Read the full article.

According to another article in the Washington Post, these microplastics are a result of breaking down plastics in the recycling process. In a peer-reviewed study in the UK, involving a plastics recycling facility, they found that 6 - 13% of plastic processed could be released into the air and water. At recycling facilities, plastic waste (usually #1 and #2) is sorted, cleaned, chopped up or shredded into bits, melted down and remolded. The wastewater collected from an unnamed facility contained up to 13% of its total plastic intake. Filtration doesn't seem to be the answer. Read the full article.

Plastic is often touted as environmentally-friendly because it is light-weight and uses less fossil fuel to transport. Plastics don't get recycled; they are downcycled. After being recycled once, it cannot be recycled again. Discarded plastics are considered a worse problem than microplastics from recycling but what is the cost of improving the process?

Steel is infinitely recyclable without loss of quality and separates from other waste by magnetism.

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