Is Recycling A Scam?

by | Jun 5, 2024

Is Recycling A Scam?

Greenwashing is the act of making false or misleading statements about the environmental benefits of a product or practice. 

Now, I want to start by saying that recycling can have some great effects and I am in no way advocating not to recycle.

But every time we throw that plastic bottle or Aluminum can in the recycling bin we feel a little better about what we just did, right?

Well, today I want to talk about how hard recycling has been greenwashed and share the hard facts and stone-cold data about how little of what we recycle actually gets turned into something new and where our recycling goes.

According to a shocking study from Greenpeace, which is a huge proponent of sustainability and environmental initiatives, the amount of plastic that gets recycled and turned into new things has fallen to new lows of around 5%.

This is a number that is expected to drop further as more plastic is produced.

Another similar study conducted by PET Container Resources, an industry trade group, discovered that in 2017 only 21% of the plastic bottles collected for recycling were turned into new things.

Greenpeace found that no plastics — not even soda bottles, one of the most popular items thrown into recycling bins — meet the criteria to be called “recyclable” according to rules set by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation New Plastic Economy Initiative.

Plastic must have a recycling rate of 30% to reach that standard. And no plastic has ever been recycled and reused close to that rate.

This has been a hard pill to swallow for much of the civilized world who have adopted recycling at a massive scale doing their part to help the environment.

Another huge issue we are coming across is the fact that much of our recycling actually gets shipped to other countries, many of which are poorer and get paid to take our recycling…

Here’s a chart showing the leading destinations for US plastic scrap exports in 2023:

Here’s a shot showing some of this happening in Kenya:

I know this is controversial and I’m not telling you not to recycle, I just want to give you an example of how certain “movements” can take hold and become the mainstream norm while actually having little impact compared to the effort.

Recycling is an extremely intensive resource-heavy process. With most types of plastic not actually being able to be recycled and falling short of the criteria to be considered recyclable.

And I hope I am not overloading everybody with charts already, but I want to share one more with you that I will walk us through:

This is a chart that shows what percent of items are recyclable at what facilities, the US population’s availability to have recycling go to these facilities, the ability for other companies to reuse the recycled plastic, and if the plastic products are actually legally able to be considered recyclable.

So, let’s dig in. You know those wrappers from your kid’s snacks or the plastic cutlery for lunch?

None of that is recyclable.

Neither are coffee pods. Only 1% of plastic bags are recyclable. And only 11% of facilities even accept plastic to-go containers.

Another big use of plastic is cups and trays, which are only accepted at 9% and 5% of these facilities respectively.

What’s the point of all this?

Well, isn’t it incredible that a concept like recycling has become the most important and most bought-in approach for environmental activity?

Just imagine if all the years of education, resources, effort and cooperation of the last few decades spent on recycling were all directed to a more effective cause. Imagine the impact we could have seen by now.

Instead, we went “all-in” on an incredibly inefficient process to try to help the world. It’s actually super frustrating when you think of the opportunity impact we could have made. It’s a textbook case of greenwashing.

It has millions and millions of participants… yet with all that manpower and buy-in, we could have created a way bigger impact by doing a lot of other activities.

Spent those resources, talents, and efforts in a different direction…

Is trading the same way?

Are there mainstream ideas you’ve bought into that require a ton of work but actually have little results?

Are you doing things just because you’re “supposed” to do them instead of taking an objective look at what efforts in your investing result in the most significant output?

I think mainstream thinking is a critical error in almost every aspect of our lives. Investing included.

Just something to think about.

— Nate Tucci

P.S. I’d love for you to go and check out my Three Rivers Portfolio right here. Every month we put together a basket of 3 individual positions using options, each with a different goal — a directional play, an income play, and a hybrid hedge. And you’re never going to believe our track record…

What to read next