Frontline recycling report misleading, Plastics president says

Plastics Wars
Image: PBS

Plastic Wars, a Frontline report about the problem of recycling plastic waste, is misleading, said Tony Radoszewski, president and CEO of the Plastics Industry Association (Plastics).

Frontline, a production of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR), said that in the years since the plastics industry mounted a recycling push, it’s estimated that no more than 10 percent of plastic produced has ever actually been recycled. The report premiered March 31 on PBS and can also be streamed on the Frontline web page.

In response to the report, Plastics issued a statement that said that plastics should not end up as litter in the ocean or anywhere else.

“The real challenge is making it easier for everyone to better dispose of plastic products by enhancing our recycling and recovery technologies,” Radoszewski said. “The stories that were told in the Frontline and NPR program, unfortunately, are misleading and missed an opportunity to positively engage with the people in our industry who are trying to improve our world. We invited the producers to see first-hand the research we were conducting to help solve the recycling issues in the Pacific Northwest. The Pacific Northwest Secondary Sorting Demonstration Project was just one of many sustainability projects we at Plastics help lead. We brought together innovators from the industry as well as key partners from the region to help build a model that could be implemented across the U.S. The facility was briefly included. Sadly, it was implied that this project will fail just as a similar effort did 25 years ago. What was omitted were the improvements in technology that were included in the newest system. The technology used for our project would increase material recovery or landfill diversion by more than 50,000 tons per year, equivalent to 2,500 semi-trailer truckloads of recovered materials bound for recycling facilities.”

Radoszewski said the entire plastics industry is playing a leading role in the domestic solution around plastic waste and recycling.

“Plastic is a sustainable material,” he said. “Much of what can be recycled, however, is ending up in landfills or the ocean, so we need to invigorate efforts to develop and promote new solutions. Measures like the RECOVER Act—which would designate funds to improve the recycling infrastructure in this country—and the RECYCLE Act plus the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act are the kinds of legislation our industry supports to build a robust recycling system. But recycling is not the only answer to solve this problem. It’s going to take a combination of innovation, education and sustainable materials management to make a lasting difference.”

The report included interviews with Lew Freeman and Larry Thomas, formerly with the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI – now Plastics). Radoszewski said their comments do not reflect the position and attitude of Plastics and the plastics industry.

“At Plastics, we are focused on innovation and solving our recycling challenges,” he said. “Innovation is the hallmark of our industry. We can’t speak for anyone who’s no longer a part of our organization, or no longer a part of the industry. But today we know that the plastics industry has nothing to hide—nor does Plastics. For decades, plastics have revolutionized the way we live. Our goal is to continue to ensure consumers benefit from the efficiencies, lower emissions profile and second life possibilities that these products provide.”

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