100 Companies Develop ‘Problematic’ Plastic List to Improve Recycling

January 28, 2022   |   Blog

The U.S. Plastics Pack – a coalition of more than 100 companies – released a list of problematic non-recyclable plastics they intended to eliminate to reduce plastic pollution.

The 11 plastic items were included on the “Problematic and Unnecessary Materials List” because they are neither recyclable nor reusable–at least, not widely. Plastics are generally recyclable but the infrastructure is lacking. As a result, some plastics (like PET, used in bottles) are recycled at a much higher rate than others (like polystyrene). 

  • Polyethylene Glycol: PETG resin is similar to PET, but they should not be confused. While PET is fully recyclable, PETG has added glycol which raises the melting point of the plastic. This higher melting point inhibits the plastic from most common recycling practices. Examples of PETG include clear rigid plastic covers and other consumer goods.
  • Polyvinyl Chloride: PVC is most known for its use in pipes. But it can also be used to make single-use products that cannot be recycled in most recycling facilities. PVC plastics are identified by #3 and examples include clam-type takeout containers.
  • Polystyrene: Polystyrene is a lightweight plastic used in many consumer goods like foam packaging, foam coffee cups, foam takeout containers, and red party cups. PS, which is identified by a #6, is not recyclable in most recycling facilities and some PS products have been banned in some states and cities.
  • Undetectable Pigments: These plastics are not any particular resin, but they can cause a lot of problems for recycling sorting devices and the quality of the recycled product is lower. Such products include any PET bottle that is not clear or transparent blue/green.
  • Oxy-degradable Additives: This may seem counterintuitive, but oxy-degradable additives were added to plastics to help them break down and be considered “biodegradable.” The problem is that these products don’t actually biodegrade. And, they cannot be recycled. Compost doggie bags are one example.
  • Problematic Labels: Adhesive labels can cause recycling contamination on otherwise fully recyclable products, like bottles. Examples include shrink-wrapped labels and some types of ink and adhesive. The Association of Plastic Recyclers has clarified which labels are best for recycling.
  • Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS): PFAS are chemicals that help make a product non-stick or waterproof. They have many uses, but they have been tied to adverse health consequences. When recycled, these chemicals can contaminate future goods.
  • Cutlery, Straws, and Stirrers: These three consumer goods were the only products – rather than materials – that were singled out by the pack. The pack noted that these utensils are among the most commonly littered items and they are mostly not recyclable due to the difficult sorting process.

The companies in the pack have agreed to eliminate their use entirely by 2025. Altogether, the companies involved in the U.S. Plastic Pack are responsible for one-third of the nation’s plastic packaging supply. 

The pack shows promise for the future of plastic recycling in the United States. By reducing the amount of non-recyclable plastic produced in the country, it can help reduce contamination and confusion that have hindered plastic recycling in recent years.