Plastic Path

plastic appliances in landfill
Stock photo

In the first study of plastic use across the entire U.S. economy, researchers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor found two-thirds of the plastic put into use in 2017 was for non-single-use items such as electronics, furniture, construction materials, and automobiles.

“While technically feasible, the costs to recover and sort plastic resins from automobile shredder residue, demolished buildings, recycled household appliances, and other consumer goods exceed current market prices for recycled plastics,” says Gregory Keoleian, senior author of the study and director of U-M’s Center for Sustainable Systems.

The U-M team’s goal is to help guide industry, policymakers, and academics toward plastic waste reduction.

“Replacing the largely linear flow of plastics in the economy will require changes in the market conditions that anchor both ends of the plastics material flow: low costs of plastic feedstocks and relatively low value of plastic waste materials,” Keoleian says.

“Product design and technological approaches should emphasize reusability and reparability, longer service lifetime and durability, and the substitution of plastics with other materials. … Policy solutions include product take-back mandates, recycling mandates, recycled content standards, product bans, deposit refund systems, and virgin resin taxes to reflect the full environmental costs of petroleum feedstocks.”