Learn About Plastics

Photo of trash was featured in Is This Yours, with vinyl stickers placed around Charlotte for 2014 KEEPING WATCH on PLASTICS. Photo: Nancy Pierce

Plastics are all around us – in our cars and our cabinets, our offices and computers. The United States Environmental Protection Agency reports 13 percent of all municipal solid waste, by weight, came from plastic in 2012. In 1960, plastics made up less than 1 percent of waste. [1]

Plastics are made from refined petroleum and natural gas. In many ways, increased use of plastics has made life easier. Because plastics are lighter than wood or glass, they reduce the fuel needed for transportation. Increasingly, though, discarded plastic finds its way into our landfills, waterways and oceans. Because most plastics are not biodegradable, this hurts our environment.

There are now vast patches of litter and debris funneled together by ocean currents in all the Earth’s oceans. According to some estimates, the “Great Garbage Patch” in the Pacific is the size of Europe. Most of the debris in those patches is small bits of plastic. Whales and sea turtles often mistake plastic bags for squid. Birds think plastic pellets are fish eggs. Studies show around 36 percent of seabird species and 43 percent of whale and dolphin species worldwide have ingested marine garbage, mostly plastic bags, bottle caps and Styrofoam.[2]

Governments and businesses are taking steps to recycle more materials, including plastic. For example, in North Carolina it’s now against the law to send No. 1 and No. 2 plastics – and aluminum cans – to landfills.[3]

Recycling can benefit us all – environmentally, socially and economically – leaving our communities a better place for future generations.

[3] http://charmeck.org/city/charlotte/SWS/CurbIt/Recycling/Pages/Home.aspx

See below to learn:

Facts about plastics and recycling

32 million tons of plastic waste was generated in 2012 in the U.S., and only 9 percent (2.8 million tons) was recycled. If you count bags and wraps as well as other kinds of plastics, the rate was 12 percent. [1]

Plastic bottles will take more than 500 years to decompose.[2]

Half of all polyester carpet made in the United States is made from recycled plastic bottles.[3]

The 2.65 million tons of plastics recycled in the U.S. in 2011 saved enough greenhouse gas benefits to equal 640,000 cars taken off the road per year.[4]

Why can’t you recycle No. 6 plastic in most places, including Mecklenburg County? No. 6 is polystyrene or Styrofoam. It is difficult to recycle. Evidence suggests it can leach potential toxins into foods.[5]

New York City has banned restaurants, stores and food carts from selling or providing polystyrene cups, food containers and packing peanuts. San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, Ore., have similar bans.[6]

In 2010-2011, Mecklenburg County residents disposed of 1.18 tons of waste per person per year, down from 1.96 tons of waste per person in 1998-99.[7]

Recycling in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County

What can I recycle in Charlotte?

But I live in an apartment

What about businesses?

What if I live in:

Does Mecklenburg County have a plan for reducing waste in the future?

What happens at the Mecklenburg County recycling center? Click here to view a video

Watch a WCNC-TV report from the Mecklenburg recycling center

More information

Although recycling is growing in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, and in the United States, many other cities and countries are ahead of us:

The average recycling rate among European Union countries is 39 percent. Austria recycles 63 percent of its trash. Germany recycles 62 percent; Belgium 58 percent, Switzerland and the Netherlands, 51 percent.[8]