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The Gap Year Blog

Watch the numbers: What plastics can I recycle?

15 May 2019 16:10 PM
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Photo Credit: Pixabay | Hans

Edited with Permission by Frontier

The mass production of plastic only started about 70 years ago and yet created 8.3 billion metric tons worldwide. Can you imagine that? It is an incomprehensive quantity. Out of that 6.3 billion metric tons have become plastic waste – most of it are disposable products that end up as trash. And only 9,5 percent of that plastic waste has been recycled because many plastics cannot be recycled due to contamination, market value, sorting or transport. That’s I why you should know your plastics.  Find out which types of plastic are (currently) not recyclable and why.

I just want to go back to that number 6.3 billion metric tonnes plastic waste worldwide. A male elephant weighs up to 6.8 metric tonnes. That would almost equal one billion (1,000,000,000) elephants. Hard to picture as we only have up to 74,000 elephants left on the globe – African and Asian elephants combined.  

The small arrows chasing each other in the form of a triangle on a plastic bottle or packaging do not mean that the material is recyclable. There are thousands of different types of plastics, each with their own characteristics. Look at your computer, printer, laptop or smartphone, your lunchbox, water bottle or coffee cup, your car or bike tyre, your garden chair, kitchen lamp or faux fur jacket.

Those are mostly all made from plastic. So, one plastic may block oxygen from reaching food, another is transparent like glass yet though and another may stretch and bounce back in shape. They all end up in the landfill and later in the ocean, our biggest dump because – doing the math backwards – 90,5 percent of plastic waste have not been recycled. Only estimated 12 percent are incinerated, which leaves 79 percent accumulating in either a landfill or more likely our environment.

And remember: Plastic takes over 400 years to decay (that again is just an assumption, it can be much longer. Plastic has not been around long enough for humans to actually witness any kind of decay).

A guide though plastic recycling

Here is a guide though plastic recycling. It is important to watch the numbers for plastic recycling; the symbol is misleading.


Know your numbers next time you go shopping or recycling. Replace disposable food packaging with reusable or fabric alternatives, swap PVC food wrapping with reusable beeswax wraps and avoid single-use plastic items.

By Desiree Schneider - Online Journalism Intern

Frontier runs terrestrial & marine conservationcommunityteaching and adventure projects in over 50 countries - join us and explore the world!