Environment Recycling & Waste Why Recycle Plastics? By Larry West Writer University of Washington Larry West is an award-winning environmental journalist and writer. He won the Edward J. Meeman Award for Environmental Reporting. our editorial process Larry West Updated November 04, 2019 Syed Mahabubul Kader/EyeEm/Getty Images Share Twitter Pinterest Email Environment Plastics Zero Waste Plastics are used to manufacture an incredible number of products we use every day, such as food and beverage containers, trash and grocery bags, cups and utensils, children's toys and diapers, and bottles for everything from mouthwash and shampoo to glass cleaner and laundry detergent. And that's not even counting all the plastic that goes into furniture, appliances, computers, and automobiles. Suffice it to say, one good reason to recycle plastic is that there is just so much of it. Why You Should Recycle Plastics Plastic Use Is Growing As the use of plastics has increased over the years, they have become a larger part of our nation's municipal solid waste (MSW)—growing from less than 1% in 1960 to more than 13% in 2013, according to a report by the Environmental Protection Agency. According to Statista, bottled water sales have been steadily increasing for the past decade: The U.S. saw 8.45 billion gallons of water sold in 2009, and that number reached 13.7 billion gallons in 2017. America is the world's leading consumer of bottled water, and, clearly, that trend continues to grow. It Conserves Natural Resources and Energy Recycling plastics reduces the amount of energy and resources (such as water, petroleum, natural gas, and coal) needed to create plastic. According to a 2009 study by researchers Peter Gleick and Heather Cooley from the Pacific Institute of California, a pint-sized bottle of water requires about 2,000 times as much energy to produce as the same amount of tap water. Recycling Plastics Saves Landfill Space Recycling plastic products also keeps them out of landfills. Recycling one ton of plastic saves 7.4 cubic yards of landfill space. That's not to mention the discarded plastic that ends up directly in the environment, breaking down into tiny pieces to pollute our soil and water and contribute to the oceans' Great Garbage Patches. It's Relatively Easy Recycling plastics has never been easier. Today, 80% of Americans have easy access to a plastics recycling program, whether they participate in a municipal curbside program or live near a drop-off site. A universal numbering system for plastic types makes it even easier. According to the American Plastics Council, more than 1,800 U.S. businesses handle or reclaim post-consumer plastics. In addition, many grocery stores now serve as recycling collection sites for plastic bags and plastic wrap. Room for Improvement Overall, the level of plastics recycling is still relatively low. In 2012, only 6.7% of plastics in the municipal solid waste stream were recycled, according to the EPA. Alternatives to Plastic While recycling is important, one of the best ways to reduce the amount of plastic in our nation's MSW is to find alternatives. For example, reusable grocery bags have seen a growth in popularity in recent years, and they are a great way to limit the amount of plastic that needs to be generated in the first place.