Recycling alone cannot end the plastic disaster - Oceana Canada
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September 10, 2020

Recycling alone cannot end the plastic disaster

Estimated reading time: 0 minutes

Topics: Plastics



As Canadians, many of us pride ourselves on being environmentally conscious –after all, Canada is the birthplace of the ubiquitous blue recycling box, which made its global debut in Kitchener, Ontario, in 1981, and has since been successfully promoted around the world. Today, the blue box is synonymous with recycling. We care about our beautiful planet and we take care of it by doing our part and dutifully recycling. Despite this, the oceans are still drowning in plastics, so what went wrong?

Since plastic came onto the scene in the 1950s, only about nine per cent of all plastic ever produced has been recycled. While recycling is often presented as a solution to plastic pollution, it will not solve the plastic crisis facing our world and our oceans today.  According to our latest Abacus Data research poll, 57 per cent of Canadians believe their plastic is recycled, and 93 per cent are upset and angry to learn that only nine per cent actually is.

There are a few problems with the plastic recycling story that many of us have been told since we were kids.

Myth: Recycling is an inexpensive way to deal with plastic waste.


  • It costs considerably more to recycle plastic than it does to recycle other materials such as glass or aluminum.
  • In most cases, if plastic is contaminated with food or beverage residue, it will not be recycled and will be sent to landfill.

Myth: It’s cheaper to recycle plastics again and again.


  • Recycling plastics is quite expensive compared to the low cost of cheap, virgin plastic materials.
  • Because of the high cost of recycling and low demand for recycled plastic, some municipalities have stopped collecting certain types of plastic altogether.
  • Historically, Canada has exported a lot of our plastic waste outside of Canada to be ‘recycled,’ but there is no guarantee that it will actually be once it leaves our borders. Additionally, countries like China and Malaysia are no longer accepting plastic waste, putting the viability of the international plastic waste market into question.

Myth: Plastic can be recycled over and over again.


  • Plastic is downcycled into lower and lower quality products until it can no longer be recycled and is sent to landfill. Glass and aluminum, on the other hand, can be recycled into the same materials indefinitely.

Myth: We can recycle our way out of the plastics disaster.


  • Plastics are everywhere, and they never go away. Instead they break up into smaller and smaller pieces that enter our water supply and are consumer by wildlife. Micro-plastics have been found in our water, beer, honey, seafood and even in the air we breathe.

A report by CBC marketplace at the end of 2019 found that even the plastic we think is getting recycled may not actually be getting recycled. They tracked bales of plastic that were already packaged and ready for recycling to see where they ended up. Shockingly, only one-third of these tracked plastic bales ended up being recycled. The other two-thirds were either incinerated or sent to landfill. Recycling should be encouraged when it is viable, but it is clear that it will never be a stand-alone solution to global single-use plastic pollution.

To truly tackle the problem we must reduce our overall plastic use. The more plastic we use, the more we throw away. The only solution is to cut it off at the source through national plastic reduction initiatives.

Join us in calling on the Canadian government to fulfill its commitment to ban harmful and unnecessary single-use plastics. Sign the petition today.