A Bangladeshi man dries pieces of plastic on an embankment in Dhaka. Many poor Bangladeshi men and women collect used plastic materials, break them down into pieces, and sell to recycling plants.
Most plastics are made of oil. In 2007, the worldwide production of plastics amounted to 260 million tons. It takes about two liters of oil to produce one kilogram of plastic and some 4-5 percent of worldwide oil production is used for plastics.
A laborer collects plastic waste at a garbage recycling site in Huaibei, China. Recycling 1 ton of plastic saves 5.7 cubic meters of landfill space.
In the U.S., bottled water is the single largest growth area among all beverages. U.S. per capita consumption has increased fivefold from 3.3 billion water bottle sold in 1997 to 15 billion in 2002. Unfortunately, the recycling rate for plastic bottles in the U.S. is only about 12 percent, according to Cornell University.
Separate or Pay
A garbage collector in Taipei separates bones from recyclable kitchen waste. Residents have to separate their litter or risk fines of up to 190 dollars. Taiwan has to cut down on garbage as the island is rapidly running out of space to dump trash.
Fines are a last resort. But recycling also seems to be influenced by cultural preferences. While Greece recycles only about 10 percent of its waste, Austria achieves a 60 percent recycling rate.
Plastics are Forever
Bangladeshi women process used polythene papers by burning them on the banks of the river Buriganga in Dhaka. Most plastics are not biodegradable. Incineration is often the only way of getting rid of them. If introduced into ecosystems, plastics will be broken down to ever smaller pieces, but will otherwise remain unchanged for hundreds and possibly thousands of years.