WWF Experts Talk The Future of Recycling and Plastic Pollution

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

Following the reintroduction of the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act and the release of a promising public opinion survey, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) assembled a panel on Tuesday to discuss the future of recycling and recycling infrastructure in the U.S. Americans make up only 5% of the world’s population, but produce half of its solid waste. To combat this, experts say the public, all levels of government, and corporations must come together to overhaul our current recycling infrastructure and achieve zero plastic waste in nature by 2030.

Why This Matters: Despite recycling programs across 22,000 municipalities and cities, 72% of all plastic in the U.S. ends up in landfills.

  •  This plastic waste can contaminate groundwater or find its way into bodies of water, creating public health hazards and destroying ecosystems
  • In the past, the U.S. has outsourced recycling to countries like China, but this practice has proved less than economical. 

Experts say that, as a finite resource, plastic should be seen as a valuable commodity and something we should keep in circulation as long as possible. To do this, we need to create a recycling infrastructure that is just as cheap as the production of new plastics, and we’ll need all hands on deck.

Down to Business: Erin Simon, the head of Plastic Waste and Business for WWF-US, said that until we address the cheapness of current plastic production, we will struggle to make recycled and reusable products economical. However, in recent years, she has seen a massive shift from companies who once opposed federal recycling policies like Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). According to Simon, companies have realized that sustainability becomes better for their bottom line by advocating for a centralized, consistent, and intentional recycling policy

 

According to a recent study released by WWF, 86% of the public wants to transition away from a throw-away economy and culture. Anthony Tusino, an associate of Policy and Government Affairs at WWF-US, says that every level of government will play a role in making that a reality. 

 

  • 22,000 disjointed programs will have to create consistent guidelines and unifying supply chains. 
  • Despite COVID-19 setbacks, which slashed the budgets of local recycling programs, Simon and Tusino say that the tools to end plastic pollution are right in front of us. 
  • One tool the public has is their voice. Tusino advises individuals to keep recycling, follow local guidelines, advocate in their communities, and contact representatives at every level of government to show their support for better recycling infrastructure.

 

As federal lawmakers evaluate the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act, which would reduce new plastic production, implement a national EPR program, and more, the United Nations is preparing to convene nations to discuss global plastic pollution commitments. Without global commitment, plastic will continue to make its way into nature and oceans. But, while looking for global solutions, Simon says that former exporting programs should not be on the table. “With this drive for more access to recycled content, we want to keep more of that at home,” she said. “We want to be able to use that as a feed-stock to make more things.”

Simon also explained that this extends beyond plastic producers and companies with large plastic footprints, “every single material we use today comes at a cost.” She said we need to look at glass, aluminum, and paper through the same mindset. Keeping these materials in circulation, reducing new production, and reducing disposal can benefit the economy and the environment and help prevent deforestation, biodiversity loss, and carbon emissions.

 

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