By now, many of us have heard the dismal statistics about plastic recycling: Of the 5.8 billion metric tons of plastic waste generated by the world between 1950 and 2015, only about 9% was recycled, and the rest They are incinerated, landfilled, or thrown directly into the environment.

Until recently, that number was accurate for the U.S., which recycled about 8.7 percent of its plastic waste in 2018, according to the latest data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But a new report from the nonprofit The Last Beach Cleanup and advocacy group Beyond Plastics found that plastic recycling rates in the U.S. are now significantly lower, with only 5 or 6 percent of the country’s plastic waste being converted into new products by 2021.

According to the groups, their findings highlight the fiasco of plastic recycling and add to allegations that the plastics industry is dishonest in promoting recycling to address the plastic pollution crisis. Just last week, the California Attorney General announced the first investigation into what he called a “decade-long plastic deception” by fossil fuel and petrochemical companies to promote recycling, even though documents show they began decades ago. Know that recycling infrastructure can never keep up with increasing plastic productivity.

“The plastics industry must stop lying to the public about plastic recycling,” Judith Enke, a former EPA district administrator and president of Beyond Plastics, said in a statement. “It doesn’t work, it never works, and no amount of false advertising can change that.”

For the analysis, The Last Beach Cleanup and Beyond Plastics looked at two data sources on the total weight of recycled plastic and divided it by the weight of U.S. plastic waste generated in 2021. The report, using data from the EPA, showed a recovery rate of only 6 percent, while a recent study by the National Institutes of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics found a lower recovery rate of 4.8 percent.

The report also highlights other worrying trends, such as the increase in the amount of plastic waste in the country. From 1980 to 2018, per capita plastic waste generation in the United States surged 263%, from 60 pounds per person per year to nearly 220 pounds. At the same time, the use of truly recyclable materials such as glass and paper has been declining.

Read next

Is Your Electric Company Obstructing Climate Action?

Beyond Plastics and The Last Beach Cleanup say the new recycling figures should be a “wake-up call” that plastic recycling is not feasible. Even at its peak in 2014, the U.S. recycled only 9.5 percent of plastic waste, and advocates argue that more recycling infrastructure is unlikely to improve that record or reverse the decline in recycling.

The report calls on companies and lawmakers to adopt policies that limit plastic production, use and disposal, emphasizing refillable water bottles, reusable container programs and single-use plastic bans as effective options. The Free From Plastic Pollution Act proposal, introduced in Congress last year by Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Rep. Alan Lowenthal of California, both Democrats, could also pass a moratorium on the expansion of plastic manufacturing facilities. and require the plastics industry to pay for and manage the waste it generates.

“Now is the time to see the truth and accept what the credible facts and science tell us,” the report concluded.[P]In the United States, plastic recycling is neither a safe nor a realistic solution to reducing plastic waste and pollution. “