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When it comes to ending plastic waste, there are no easy answers, but asking questions is a productive beginning. Below you’ll find some of the most frequently asked questions about plastic and recycling

What is the industry doing to address waste?

Over the past three years, there have been more than $5 billion in announced private-sector investments in modern recycling technologies in the U.S., many of which expand the types and volumes of plastics that can be reused.

Is more recycling the only solution?

No, recycling is one important part, but by no means is it the only part. We must improve our existing infrastructure and invest in innovative new technologies for the future. We need to reexamine our approach to production, from delivery to consumer use to capture and to reuse. That is how, together, we can solve the waste problem and move toward a truly circular economy for plastic.

How can the current recycling system be fixed?

The existing system was not designed to handle the current waste stream. A modern recycling system is a critical component to the circular economy and will require continued investment to improve the existing infrastructure so that it works for all materials.

What is advanced recycling?

Advanced recycling, which is a combination of several different technologies, breaks plastic down into its molecular components and reuses the molecules for the creation of new virgin-quality materials that can be used as the building blocks for making tomorrow’s plastic rather than using virgin resources. We’re using these technologies to help bridge the gap between what can currently be recycled and what cannot—moving us closer to a circular economy for plastic. Investment in advanced recycling technologies is a direct example of the plastics industry evolving to meet market-based demands from the public and consumer goods companies.

What is the circular economy for plastics?

The circular economy for plastics eliminates plastic waste by making a wide range of new products (e.g., clothes, roads, auto parts) from the widest range of used plastic. It is the next step in developing a more sustainable model that captures and harnesses the many benefits of plastic while limiting negative impacts to our environment.

What role does the “reuse” of plastic play in the circular economy?

“Reduce, reuse, recycle.” In the hierarchy of materials management, reuse occupies an even higher status than recycling and can play an important role in eliminating waste. Through reuse, we eliminate some of the need to create new products and packaging – along with their environmental impact. Plastic makers generally support materials management systems that encourage the reuse of plastic products and packaging when reuse can help reduce our environmental footprint. Refillable spray bottles for cleaning products, at-home carbonated beverage makers, refillable containers for household delivery services… all examples of reuse systems. While “single use” design has its place to fill certain needs (e.g., medical, some food establishments), all materials should be captured and repurposed for another use when possible, through mechanical or advanced recycling, for example.

Why is plastics production expected to increase?

Production of many building materials, including plastic, aluminum, cement and glass, is increasing — a result of a growing global population. As emerging economies develop and people move out of poverty and into consumer classes, urban centers will continue expanding to accommodate them. Growing infrastructure development will mean more asphalt for paved streets. Expanded safe water distribution requires plastic pipes. Telecommunications and wiring will require increases in cable production. Whatever materials are used to meet the needs of population growth, it is imperative that they are part of the circular economy, ensuring those resources can be reused to make new products.

How do plastics help in the response to COVID-19?

Plastics help to protect and empower healthcare workers through innovations like surgical gloves and masks, face shields, syringes, IV tubes, blood bags, and catheters. These vital tools reduce the risk of contamination and infection, and help first responders and medical staff treat patients quickly, safely, and more efficiently.Plastics can also provide important protection and sterility for medical supplies and equipment, as well as for food and beverage containers.

How are America’s plastic makers responding to COVID-19?

America’s plastic makers are helping support healthcare workers and many others engaged in saving lives during this COVID-19 pandemic. To respond to these challenges, many companies have increased production of the materials needed to make personal protective equipment (PPE) and other critical medical supplies and gear. Some companies are donating plastics to organizations that are producing additional PPE for those on the front lines, and others are donating their time and money.

How should you properly dispose of single-use PPE like masks and gloves?

To help prevent the spread of the coronavirus and for the safety of waste and recycling professionals, ensure products like disposable masks and gloves, used tissues, and disinfecting wipes are not placed in recycling bins. These items should always be disposed of in the trash.