You toss your plastic water bottle in a recycling bin after coming home from a trip to the beach, hoping the plastic from that bottle will be in next year’s plastic bottle, right? It most likely will not. Currently, plastic can only be re-manufactured a limited number of times, at best into a lower quality product because it degrades each time it is recycled. 1 The value of recycled plastic may be low enough that your bottle is instead burned in an incinerator or dumped into a landfill.
A few years ago, that plastic might have been sold to China or another foreign nation. However, over the last few years, countries across the Pacific are putting restrictions on importing U.S. waste. Without these export markets, the U.S. recycling industry is in serious trouble, as exemplified by your plastic bottle’s likely journey to a landfill or incinerator. Of course, using a reusable water bottle would have avoided this issue, and for that reason, reduction and reuse strategies are preferable to recycling, even when recycling works.