We already know that recycling is not the way to go for the health of our planet, but now we see the impact of this on human health.
Recycling may make you feel better in a very small way about your role in helping to avert a global apocalypse, but does it make a difference?
Does recycling work?
Recycling has been promoted for years as the environmental answer to humanity's growing amounts of waste. According to the Bureau of International Recycling, recycling has also become a $200 billion global industry.
You may have been told that recycling is a green and socially responsible act. When you place your waste in curbside bins for pick-up, you’re not just being a good person—you’re doing something that will benefit the health of your community. Unfortunately, it isn't this simple and your efforts don't equal results. For some products, recycling is an effective solution. Aluminum cans and glass are infinitely recyclable and can be reprocessed in many countries, such as Canada and the UK. But for plastics, it’s much more complicated than we think.
For one, the complexity of the numerous types of plastics (with recyclability scores numbered 1 to 7) makes it extremely costly and intensive to sort accordingly. As well, many people don’t know that the recycling process releases chemical by-products that can be harmful to human health.
A Moment of Truth
According to research conducted by Brunel University London, recycled plastic bottles can actually release more chemicals into beverages than virgin (non-recycled plastics). The researchers found 150 chemicals in liquids stored in recycled plastic bottles, with 18 of them exceeding safety regulations.
When analyzing plastic water bottles, researchers found the presence of hundreds of chemical substances, some of which have never been found in plastics before. Even after washing the plastic bottles, these chemical substances did not go away: the number of substances reached into the thousands.
However, according to the Brunel University London research, recycled plastic bottles had more substances than new plastic.
The degradation process of wear and tear from these plastics occurs for various reasons, it happens each time a plastic is recycled but also occurs during normal use like washing. Based on this information, there is a way to avoid breakdown and health risks all together.
Dr. Eleni Iacovidou, a lecturer from Brunel’s center for pollution research and policy, who led the study, said: As ever though, the ultimate solution to the problem is for society to begin an end to the use of PET altogether.
“We all have a responsibility to bear. We need to start thinking about how to prevent the use of PET bottles in our households by investing, for example, in water filters, water stations, or large water containers and learning how to dispose of our plastic waste properly,” she said.
“If we reduce our consumption of PET then we will drive change further up the system. Less demand equals less production in the first place.”