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Greenpeace Report: "Plastic Recycling Failing"

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Posted at 9:24 PM, Oct 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-26 07:16:20-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — People might feel like they're helping the environment when they're recycling all things plastic.

However, a large majority of plastic put into recycling bins is not being reused, according to a new Greenpeace report.

Instead, it's heading into landfills. The report provides information showing that the amount of plastic create in an item for consumers has fallen to new lows of around 5 percent.

The number is expected to continue declining as more plastic is produced.

The problem and its impact are rooted deep in the history of plastic production. Greenpeace said there are five reasons plastic recycling fails.

1. Plastic waste is extremely difficult to collect.
2. Mixed plastic cannot be recycled together.
3. Plastic recycling is wasteful, polluting, and a fire hazard.
4. Recycled plastic usually has high toxicity risks.
5. Plastic recycling is not economical.

David Lehfeldt the Director of Solid Waste Services for the City of Corpus Christi believes solutions are possible with the use of advanced technology.

During an interview with KRIS 6 News, he mentioned Pyrolysis, which he explained as the process of taking plastic and raising it to a high temperature with no oxygen present.

He said once the process is complete, it turns into natural gas and petroleum products. He believes the technology is promising but says there are issues with it that still need to be worked out from a financial and logistic standpoint.

Meanwhile, the city is continuing its efforts to educate the public about recyclables.

In Oct. 2021, Corpus Christi City Councilmembers approved the Contamination Lessening Education and Enforcement (CLEAN) program.

The effort started because the city saw a high recycling contamination rate when trash and materials are in the wrong bin. Since the program started, Lehfeldt said they were surprised to find more than 90 percent of about 90,000 waste services customers are doing a good job putting trash where it belongs.

Before the program started, the contamination rate was sitting at about 42 percent to 43 percent, which meant four pounds out of every 10 pounds collected from a recycling bin was actually trash.

The program enforced penalties for people who weren't complying. If non-recyclable trash was found in a blue bin, the owner was to be given a warning the first two times.

A third time led to a $25 fine or a two-week suspension from the recycling pickup schedule. A fourth violation would've led to a removal of a recycling bin for at least six months.

"In the first year, we were able to reduce our contamination rate by 25 percent. We took it from about 42 percent to 31 percent, which is a phenomenal accomplishment for the first year," said Lehfeldt.

As for the Coastal Bend's landfills, Lehfeldt said the one his team utilizes is in great shape with more than 170 years of life capacity.

"We don't need to worry about it, our grandkids won't need to worry about it. By the time it becomes a problem 170 years from now, I anticipate the world of trash will be totally different than it is today," he said.

According to Lehfeldt, the city also plans to bring in a new compost facility which he believes will help pull more material out of the waste stream.

On a broader scale, Solid Waste Services process about 400,000 tons of trash annually through its landfill. About 190 people work to keep the waterways and bays from being contaminated and they serve more than 90,000 customers.

Click here to learn more about recycling.