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Common Reading 2023: Plastic Recycling Doesn't Work and Will Never Work by Judith Enck and Jan Dell

Plastic Recycling Doesn't Work and Will Never Work — Judith Enck and Jan Dell

“Plastic Recycling Doesn't Work and Will Never Work” breaks down why plastic fails to be recycled, despite the efforts of the plastics industry to convince consumers otherwise. Instead of trying and failing to recycle plastics, people should advocate for laws and practices that would end the production and use of single-use plastics.

Discussion Questions

  1. What do you think are the best solutions to ending plastic waste?

  1. What steps can you take to reduce your reliance on single-use plastic? What products or practices could you give up or amend?

Class Activities

  • Find recycling stations on campus. Make a note of what items can and cannot be recycled and figure out which disposable objects you use that could be recycled.

  • Research SU’s recycling and sustainability practices. Is there anything you think the school could do differently to be more sustainable, especially where plastics are concerned?

  • Research the laws and practices surrounding plastics in your community or in Selinsgrove. Write a letter to local representatives or businesses to try to convince them to reduce plastic use.

Introduction — John Duncan

Have you ever performed a gesture of goodwill that just didn’t play out the way you had hoped? Many years ago, I gave myself a ‘fresh new look’ with safety scissors to save my hard-working mother from a trip to the hairdresser. My small act of goodwill simply culminated in an unfortunate school photo. On a much larger scale, people of goodwill champion plans of good intent that frequently fall short of their goals. And, in a sense, failure can sometimes stem from our natural hesitancies to acknowledge and address the shortcomings of our well-intended efforts.

No one wants to see a plan designed to do good for the world underperform, much less declare its inefficacy. Judith Enck and Jan Dell offer a sobering perspective on efforts to save the environment in their article, “Plastic Recycling Doesn’t Work and Will Never Work.” The article underscores the chemical, energetic, and economic constraints that render current plastic recycling efforts ineffective.

As you read through Enck and Dell’s appeal to both U.S. policymakers and the general public for reformative action, consider the following: Why are current efforts to recycle plastics so unsuccessful? What solutions do the authors propose for reducing plastic waste? What parallels can you draw between plastic recycling and other ineffective goodwill initiatives? Finally, how does this article affect your willingness to acknowledge underperforming goodwill initiatives?

Related Videos

"Takeout creates a lot of trash. It doesn't have to." from Vox

"Why This May Be the Future of Plastic Recycling" from Undecided with Matt Ferrell

"How To Replace Plastic With Avocados, Algae, Mushrooms And Sugarcane | World Wide Waste" from Insider Business

"Plastic Wars (full documentary) | FRONTLINE" from FRONTLINE PBS | Official

Additional Resources

SU Sustainability Initiatives

Check out Susquehanna's sustainability initiatives, including our waste and recycling policies.

SU Sustainability Instagram

Check out the Instagram for Susquehanna's Sustainability Office to see the latest sustainability events and opportunities.

Recycle by City Philadelphia

This site includes a guide for what is recyclable in Philadelphia and a quiz to test your knowledge of recycling in Philadelphia.

How Big Oil Misled The Public Into Believing Plastic Would Be Recycled

This NPR article discusses oil companies' role in promoting the idea that plastic is recyclable.

Plastic Pollution: CQR

Read a deep dive on the plastic pollution problem.

About the Authors

Judith Enck is a former EPA regional administrator, the president of Beyond Plastics, and a visiting professor at Bennington College. She has a long and distinguished career in government and the non-profit community on a range of environmental protection issues.

Jan Dell is a chemical engineer and the founder of the Last Beach Cleanup, a non-profit organization which works with shareholders and various environmental groups on initiatives regarding plastic pollution.


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