2020 U.S. Post-Consumer Plastic Recycling Survey

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Circular Claims Fall Flat: Comprehensive U.S. Survey of Plastics Recyclability

(Link to Report on Greenpeace's website)

February 18, 2020: Greenpeace USA released the results of a comprehensive survey of the nation’s 367 material recovery facilities (MRFs) today, revealing that only PET #1 and HDPE #2 plastic bottles and jugs may legitimately be labeled as recyclable by consumer goods companies and retailers. The survey found that common plastic pollution items, including plastic tubs, cups, lids, plates, and trays may not be labeled as recyclable according to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Green Guide requirements for products and labeling.  

Accurate recyclable claims and labels serve three valuable functions: truthful advertising to consumers, prevention of harmful contamination in America’s recycling system, and identification of products for elimination or redesign to reduce plastic waste and pollution.

Key results of the survey include:

  1. Only some PET #1 and HDPE #2 plastic bottles and jugs can be legitimately labeled as recyclable in the U.S. today.
     

  2. Common plastic pollution items, including single use plastic food service and convenience products, cannot be legitimately claimed as recyclable in the U.S.
     

  3. Plastics #3-7 cannot be legitimately labeled as “recyclable” under FTC guidelines.
     

  4. Consumers cannot “Check Locally” to determine if a plastic #3-7 item will actually be recycled into a new product. Plastics #3-7 have negligible-to-negative value and are effectively a category of products that municipal recycling programs may collect, but do not actually recycle.  Plastic #3-7 waste collected in municipal systems across the country is being sent to landfills or incinerated.
     

  5. Many full body shrink sleeves on PET #1 and HDPE #2 bottles and jugs make them non-recyclable.

2020 U.S. MRF Survey - Transparent Account of Plastic Item Acceptance at U.S. Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs)

An objective survey of acceptance of plastic items in curbside collection for sorting at the U.S. Residential Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) was performed from October 2019 to January 2020. A total of 367 operating facilities were identified in the U.S. The acceptance information was found in the public domain and is publicly shared here to promote transparency and establish a traceable account of facts related to plastic “recyclable” claims and labels. The survey approach is described in detail in the report. Links to information, including videos of MRF operations, are provided in the spreadsheet.

Use of the Survey: The 2020 U.S. MRF Survey results may be quoted with attribution to Greenpeace. The information in the survey spreadsheet may be quoted with attribution to the original source of the information (provided by links in the spreadsheet). The spreadsheet itself is the intellectual property of The Last Beach Cleanup and may not be reproduced without express written consent.

 

Survey Updates: Submissions by MRFs and local governments are welcomed to update or correct the information found and presented. Links to publicly available information are required to revise the traceable account. Since external links may change at any time, we request notification of a broken link. Please send updates with links to lastbeachcleanup@gmail.com

Downloadable Documents:

2020 U.S. MRF Survey Summary

Report Version: February 9, 2020

2020 U.S. MRF Survey Spreadsheet

Report Version: February 9, 2020

Selected News Coverage of Survey:

Reuters Video: Misleading recycling labels found on plastic products: Greenpeace

The Guardian: America’s 'recycled' plastic waste is clogging landfills, survey finds

The Hill: 'Recyclable' labels on plastic products are often misleading, says review

Waste Dive: Report argues most plastics, especially #3-7s, falsely labeled as recyclable

International Business Times: US Products With 'Recyclable' Label Misleading, Most Are Sent To Landfills

One Green Planet: We’re Being Deceived by Major U.S. Companies Using Misleading Recyclable Labels on Hundreds of Plastic Products that Go Straight into Landfills, Oceans or Incinerators!

Sustainability Times: Report: U.S. labels on plastics mislead the recycling public

Vice: You Only Think You're Recycling These Plastics

Weather Channel: 'Recyclable' Plastics Are Often Rejected by U.S. Recycling Plants, Greenpeace Says

EcoWatch: U.S. Products Labeled Recyclable Really Aren’t, Greenpeace Report Says

Time: To Fix America's Broken Recycling System, States Want Companies to Foot the Bill

Catalytic Initiatives to Move from Awareness of Plastic Pollution to Widespread Action and Achievement