The solution to the plastic waste crisis? It isn’t recycling

There’s no way of making current levels of consumption ‘environmentally friendly’
The Lego Disney Frozen II Arendelle Castle Village features a princess, animals, birds and mini dolls. It is made of 521 separate bits of plastic, it was one of the bestselling Christmas toys, and fans of the movie on which it is based will surely spend several hours of magical, creative play with it.

But those few hours may well be the last that this and many other toys are used. Thousands of plastic castles, farmyards and games, as well as myriad other presents, have probably already been stuffed into bulging cupboards to be thrown away in a year or two to make room for yet more plastic. And, because most plastic is near impossible to recycle, these toys will probably have to be landfilled or burned in incinerators, poisoning the air and further adding to global heating.

But would it really make much difference if the castle, and the 359m tonnes of plastic that the world makes a year, was recyclable? Is the type of plastic the problem, or is it the fact that we are overwhelmed with vast quantities of waste we cannot process?

The question is barely raised by the Green Alliance, whose new report, paid for by some of Britain’s biggest plastic recyclers, laments that people are confused about what can be recycled or composted. Companies, say the report’s authors, want to use less plastic but they may be increasing our carbon footprints by switching their packaging to glass or cardboard, which have their own environmental impacts. Glass, they point out, is heavier to transport so can increase carbon emissions, and paper bags may not be reusable.

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