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Quick Guide to Recycling

Recycling systems, especially in the United States, are flawed, which is why the best practice is to reduce your consumption rather than using plastic and trying to recycle. 

A 2017 study found that, as of 2015, only about 9% of all plastic waste in the world has been recycled, while 12% has been incinerated and 79% ended up in landfills or the environment

Other materials have higher recycling rates. In 2018, glass waste in the US had a recycling rate of 31.3% and aluminum 34.9%, according to the EPA.

See the Personal Actions section above to see what you can do in your daily life to reduce your single-use plastic consumption


Marketing tactics prey on the widely-known importance of preserving our environment and advertise to an audience of largely uninformed consumers who are easily misled—this is called greenwashing. The definition of greenwashing is when “ads or labels promise a more environmental benefit than they deliver.” Corporations are starting to feel obligated to respond to consumer concerns and demands for a “greener” planet. Consumers attempting to support green companies can be misled into purchasing products that are not environmentally conscious.

To limit being greenwashed, be sure to do research on new products you see on the market. Remember that the best alternative is always to refuse single-use plastic and to use reusables. This not only limits the amount of plastic being produced and discarded, but also limits the potential of consumers being greenwashed or supporting false advertising claims.

Busting the Myth of Bioplastics and Compostable Plastics

The word “bioplastic” is appealing to those looking for an environmentally friendly alternative to everyday plastic items. In reality, “bioplastics” are not an indicator of how well a product will break down in the natural environment. Bioplastics are a combination of plastic sourced from plants, feedstock, and fossil fuels. Using plants provides corporations with an opportunity to advertise the product as “green.” Oftentimes, the plant-based materials are sourced from corn, which has its own environmental impacts associated with it, including water use and chemical fertilizer run-off, which often results in harmful algal blooms.

Compostable plastics also greenwash consumers through their false or hidden claims of how compostable their products actually are. Many compostable plastics are only able to compost and fully break down in an industrial composting facility. These facilities are not accessible to all communities and often there is no organized pick-up system, like there is for trash and recycling, to bring the compostable plastic products to the closest industrial composting facility. Consumers can mistake the term “compostable” as being able to be composted in a backyard compost bin leading to their compost to be contaminated with plastic materials. Essentially, without a widespread system to deal with compostable plastics, they will still make it to the landfill with other single-use plastic products.

There is far too much confusion when it comes to single-use plastic alternatives coupled with misinformation about a product's ability to biodegrade, be composted, or be recycled. The terms “compostable,” “biodegradable,” and “bioplastics,” impress buyers, influencing their purchasing decisions, while being unaware of their inaccurate understanding of how it will break down. Consumers should not be expected to understand the complexity of all the competing “eco-friendly” alternatives on the market. Instead, companies, governments, and other institutions should encourage refusing single-use plastics to create a circular economy where almost nothing is wasted.

Conducting Cleanups and Brand Audits

Although the Reduce-Single Use Project largely advocates for reducing and refusing single-use plastic as it is harder to remove plastic once it is in the environment, conducting cleanups is also an essential process to remove plastics that have already made it into the natural environment. Cleanups can take place anywhere from the beach to a college campus, waterway, city, park, neighborhood, and any other location where there may be an excess of pollution.

Holding companies that are producing single-use plastic products accountable for the plastic waste they are creating and the plastic pollution crisis they contribute greatly to is key when working to create change in the plastics movement. One method of action is conducting brand audits at waterway and beach cleanups which allows consumers to put pressure on the plastic producers. Plastic pollution is not the responsibility of individual consumers, so brand audits serve as a citizen science initiative to quantify brands found on plastic waste at cleanups around the world.