It turns out that all the plastic that now lies in American landfills is worth billions of dollars

(ORDO NEWS) — According to new estimates from the Department of Energy (DOE), an average of $7.2 billion of plastic ended up in landfills in the United States in 2019.

When you factor in the cost of producing, marketing, and recycling all this junk material, the cost to the economy is significant. This does not take into account the environmental cost of plastic pollution.

Although landfills are often considered the cheapest way to dispose of waste, in many ways this is a short-sighted approach.

Building a recycling system can cost more initially, but in the long run, the plastic circular economy could save big money, between $4.5 billion and $9.9 billion.

Currently, recycling plastic is more expensive than producing new plastic, which means there is no incentive for companies to dig through landfills for old materials.

Much of this is because petroleum products are so cheap, but their cheapness hides a deeper cost to our planet and ultimately our economy.

Approximately 44 million tons (Mt) of plastic waste was recycled in the US in 2019 by private and public companies, according to a recent analysis by the US Department of Energy.

This is much more than the number given by the US Environmental Protection Agency, which is about 32 million tons of plastic waste.

In 2019, researchers estimate that only 5 percent of all that plastic was recycled. At the same time, about 86 percent was sent to landfill.

“Plastic waste is not just an environmental issue. It’s a waste management issue. It’s also a land use issue because many areas are closing landfills,” says energy analyst Anelia Milbrandt of the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

“What do we do with all this waste? It has to go somewhere.”

Leaving it in a landfill is the easiest option, but it not only wastes money, but also a huge amount of energy.

In 2019, according to an analysis by the Department of Energy, plastic waste accounted for approximately 12 percent of all industrial energy consumption in the United States.

The production of synthetic polymers requires the production of petrochemicals, which is a significant source of carbon emissions.

Recycling just one ton of plastic would save 13.8 barrels of oil and 810 cubic feet of landfill space, according to past estimates.

In fact, the average “embodied” energy of plastics is about 100 megajoules per kilogram. This is almost four times the energy contained in steel, which is one of the most energy-intensive materials to manufacture.

“Using plastic waste instead of virgin plastic in products creates opportunities to save energy and reduce the impact of embodied energy,” the researchers write.

The new estimates are based on 44 waste composition studies in 37 US states, covering more than 1,776 active landfills and 85 incinerators.

Across the country in 2019, plastic waste samples accounted for nearly 14 percent of all municipal solid waste.

In some states, such as Kansas, Nebraska and North Carolina, the percentage of plastic waste in landfills was as high as 18%.

Of all the selected plastic products, the majority fell into the categories of plastic film, plastic wrap and plastic bags. Plastic bottles are more often recycled.

Most of the plastic waste was sent to landfills by such densely populated states as California, Texas and Florida. While New York sent most of the plastic waste to neighboring states due to lack of space.

The authors of the report hope their findings will help spur policy changes to promote recycling across the country.

Ever since the Chinese recycling industry stopped accepting American plastic waste in 2018, US landfills have been accumulating at an alarming rate. Plastic originally destined for recycling plants is instead sent to landfill.

Investment in new recycling technologies could help move some of this waste away from landfills. As well as better sorting methods to select recyclable materials in the cheapest and most efficient way.

“I believe that local governments and industrial developers will see the benefit of this report as it will provide them with information for decision making,” says Milbrandt.

In the meantime, every piece of plastic we can’t reuse is a waste of money, a waste of energy, and a waste of opportunity.”

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