The Earth is drowning in a sea of used plastic bags and other one-time-use plastic products, such as blister packaging and utensils, all of which are polluting our soil, waterways, and inside our bodies in the form of microplastics.
In an effort to fight this ever-growing sea of refuse, the US government kickstarted a nationwide online directory that directed people to locations where they could drop off plastic bags and film to be recycled. Unfortunately, according to The Guardian, the program has been shuttered for good after ABC News found in May that a good amount of the discarded plastic wasn't getting recycled after all.
"Plastic film recycling had been an abysmal failure for decades and it’s important that plastic companies stop lying to the public," said Beyond Plastics president Judith Enck to The Guardian. "Finally, the truth is coming out."
The online national directory, having the approval of the US Environmental Protection Agency and local administrations, had a list of about 18,000 locations for recycling dropoff, according to The Guardian. Locations included stores like Target and Walmart.
The program purported that the plastic would get recycled once you drop them off, but ABC News used tracking tags on plastic trash and found that many of the tags ended up in landfills, incinerators or sorting locations not associated with recycling.
This issue with the directory list is not an isolated incident. The country's recycling system is broken. A report last year from Greenpeace revealed that out of 51 million tons of plastic coming out of American homes, only 2.4 million tons gets recycled — a staggeringly low proportion.
Plastic is a big problem because it is made from fossil fuels, which is the biggest driver of global warming. Materials such as paper and metal are recycled at a higher rate, according to Greenpeace.
While many countries and organizations have focused on decarbonizing transportation and other sectors in our modern world, the use of plastic is trending upwards, with the amount of plastic products estimated to triple by 2060, from 60 million tons in 2019 to 1,231 million tons in less than 40 years.
That mountain of refuse represents not just an incredible amount of pollution, in other words — but also frustrating wasted efforts in fighting climate change.
More on recycling: Scientists Say Recycling Has Backfired Spectacularly