Coverage of a recent Greenpeace analysis on plastics waste and recycling fell short of the nuanced and critical reporting I expect from the Globe (“Plastic recycling a ‘myth,’ study says,” Metro, Oct. 30). The “myth” of plastics recycling was largely created by the plastics manufacturers as an alternative to contributing viable solutions. We should hold companies accountable; it is not surprising that the public has lost faith in them after their misleading claims and failed attempts at building recycling infrastructure.
Indeed, the 5 percent recycling rate for household waste plastics is a cause for concern; however, it also suggests that at least the waste management industry is finding a way to recover some value from these materials. Reuse and reduction are important pieces of the puzzle, but they alone will not solve the problem, and now is not the time to dismiss attempts to rectify past behaviors.
It is unrealistic to imagine a world without plastics. Packaging prevents a significant amount of food waste, which is also a large source of greenhouse gas emissions. Plastics in transportation (including aviation, for which there is not currently a viable carbon-free alternative) provides a huge amount of fuel savings due to weight reduction.
As a member of the University of Massachusetts Lowell plastics engineering faculty, I communicate regularly with environmental groups, researchers, members of the plastics industry, and entrepreneurs who are working hard to find solutions to the plastics waste challenge. We engage in research and training on improving collection, sorting, and reprocessing; innovating chemical recycling technologies; and redesigning plastic materials to be inherently more circular. Rather than dismiss current attempts to transition to a green energy and materials economy, we should be searching for ways to incentivize it through policy, workforce development, and consumer education.
Meg Sobkowicz Kline
The writer is a professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and codirector of SWIMMER, a National Science Foundation research traineeship program.