400 million tonnes of plastic waste created each year, but only 2 million recycled

LAS VEGAS, Nevada — Americans generate a lot of trash — about five pounds per person per day — and much of it is plastic. Those flimsy grocery bags, those shrink wraps, and, of course, those bottles — lots and lots of bottles.

Every year we throw away 2.5 million plastic bottles.

“They’re highly recyclable and it’s imperative that they end up in your recycling bin,” said Jeremy Walters, Republic Services’ external communications manager.

Together, we create 400 million tonnes of plastic waste per year. Only 2 million tons are recycled. We used to do better, but during the pandemic our recycling rate dropped because we started producing more waste.

“It’s the amount of waste generated versus the amount of recycling generated. And when that waste starts to increase, the recycling volumes start to dilute,” Walters continued.

Las Vegas is a city known for its excesses, its big hotels and its big casinos. It also has the largest residential recycling plant in the country.

Republic Services recycles 2 million pounds every day, the equivalent of 500 cars. Workers at the massive factory sort through mixed recyclables, plastics, aluminum, glass and paper and remove items from the wish cycle, which are things we wish we could recycle but can’t.

“Bowling balls, shoes, engine blocks, steel security doors – I promise if you use your imagination, we’ve seen it here,” Walters said.

Paper is by far the most recycled item – 50 million tonnes per year, and we also break down and recycle almost all of our cardboard. More than 90% of this cardboard is recycled.

There are many that are not recycled, however. About 110 million glass bottles are thrown away every year. Glass can be recycled indefinitely, like aluminum, but we still don’t recycle around seven million tonnes a year. And then there are all those plastic bottles.

All the waste we create that doesn’t go through recycling plants ends up in landfills.

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Bryce K. Locke