Greenpeace USA: Recycling Is Not a Solution to the Plastic Problem


Greenpeace USA shocked the world in late 2021 with a report that had very little good to say about plastic recycling. A year later, they followed up with a report declaring plastic recycling a colossal failure. So what’s the organization’s latest position? A report released in spring 2023 declared that recycling is not a solution to the alleged plastic problem.

It is difficult to read the Greenpeace reports without being suspicious of the organization’s motives. Bear in mind that humanity has been producing plastics since the late 19th century. We have been at it for more than 140 years and the world has managed to survive and thrive. So why all the doom and gloom now?

The Ongoing Recycling Problem

Anyone with an open mind would find it tough to argue against the proposition of an ongoing recycling problem. Worldwide, more than 90% of the plastics humanity produces are disposed of in landfills or incinerators. That is a problem if you believe that the majority of plastic needs to be recycled to fuel a circular economy.

If you don’t think recycling is important, then it’s no big deal. On the one hand, this seems to be the position Greenpeace USA takes. On the other hand, the organization is not content to see tons of plastic thrown away every year. So what’s their solution?

Greenpeace USA’s Graham Forbes told the Guardian in early 2023 that “plastics have no place in a circular economy and it’s clear that the only real solution to ending plastic pollution is to massively reduce plastic production.” And there you have it. The only solution is eliminating plastic.

A Pie in the Sky Strategy

Working to eliminate plastic production is a pie in the sky strategy. It is never going to happen. Even if Greenpeace USA and other like-minded organizations agreed to content themselves with merely reducing plastic production, this is not going to happen either.

Plastic is the best and most utilized manufacturing material in the world. It has helped win wars. It has helped create a manufacturing revolution that supplies the world with cell phones, laptop computers, waterproof fabrics, synthetic carpets, and so much more. Eliminating it now would cause a worldwide collapse unlike anything anyone has ever seen.

There Are Ways to Deal with It

Unfortunately, the same types of organizations calling for plastic’s demise also have nothing good to say about efforts to deal with the plastic problem. Industrial plastic recycling is the latest target for such critics. They say that recycling makes plastics more toxic than they are in virgin form, which is why Greenpeace USA contends that recycling is not a viable solution.

There are those who humbly disagree. Tennessee-based Seraphim Plastics might be one such company. Seraphim Plastics purchases scrap plastic produced by the industrial sector. They recycle the scrap by reducing it to small pellets and flakes known as regrind. The regrind is purchased by manufacturers who mix it with virgin plastic to make new products.

Critics claim that the mechanical recycling process Seraphim Plastics relies on creates microplastics that are more dangerous to the planet and human health than the original plastic products from which regrind is produced. So even though companies like Seraphim Plastics are keeping tons of plastic out of landfills every year, they can’t win.

No Solution to Be Found

Reading multiple Greenpeace reports over the last several years has made it abundantly clear to me that there is no solution to be found. I suspect that’s because there really is no plastics problem. What the critics really want is a total ban on plastic.