The Complicated Reality of Recycling: Microplastics and the Need for Inclusive Circular Solutions

Alfred Tang

Hatched by Alfred Tang

Oct 27, 2023

4 min read


The Complicated Reality of Recycling: Microplastics and the Need for Inclusive Circular Solutions


Recycling has long been hailed as a solution to our plastic waste problem. However, recent research has shed light on a concerning issue - recycling itself can contribute to the proliferation of microplastics. Even when plastic is successfully processed at recycling facilities, it can break down into smaller particles, releasing up to 75 billion pieces of microplastics per cubic meter of wastewater. This alarming discovery highlights the complexity and challenges of recycling, urging us to reevaluate our approach to waste management. Additionally, it is crucial to involve all stakeholders, including corporations, in the pursuit of effective circular solutions.

The Hidden Consequences of Recycling:

While recycling is often seen as a straightforward process of transforming plastic into new products, it is, in fact, a complex endeavor. Researchers have found that recycling a plastic bottle involves deconstructing it and reconstructing it multiple times. However, with each recycling cycle, the material degrades, eventually reaching a point where it cannot be recycled further. This phenomenon, known as diminishing returns, underscores the limitations and challenges of recycling as a long-term solution.

Microplastics: A Silent Threat:

The issue of microplastics goes beyond just their presence in our waterways. Recent studies have also revealed high levels of airborne microplastics within recycling facilities. This poses a significant health risk to workers, as they are exposed to these particles and may inadvertently inhale them. The invisible threat of microplastics highlights the urgent need to address not only the environmental impact but also the human health implications of our recycling processes.

The Paradox of Corporations and Circular Solutions:

It is tempting to view corporations solely as culprits in the plastic waste crisis. However, it is essential to recognize that they also play a pivotal role in implementing sustainable solutions at scale. While incremental improvements in recyclability may not seem significant, they are steps in the right direction. Companies that actively seek to improve the recyclability of their products or packaging should not be dismissed as greenwashing. Instead, their efforts should be acknowledged as progress towards a more circular economy.

The Importance of Inclusive Circular Strategies:

To effectively address the challenges of recycling and microplastics, we must adopt inclusive circular strategies that involve all stakeholders, including corporations. Exclusionary approaches that demonize certain actors in the plastic industry hinder progress rather than promote it. By recognizing that corporations are both part of the problem and key to implementing solutions, we can work towards collaboration and collective action. By fostering dialogue and including all voices, we can develop comprehensive solutions that tackle the root causes of plastic pollution.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Invest in Research and Innovation: Governments, organizations, and corporations should allocate resources to research and innovation that focus on developing sustainable recycling technologies. Finding ways to minimize the degradation of materials during the recycling process and effectively remove microplastics from wastewater can pave the way for more efficient and environmentally friendly recycling practices.
  • 2. Educate and Raise Awareness: Public education about recycling, microplastics, and the complexities of waste management is crucial. By increasing awareness, individuals can make informed decisions about their consumption habits and recycling practices. Encouraging responsible consumer behavior and promoting the importance of recycling can contribute to a more sustainable future.
  • 3. Foster Collaboration and Partnerships: Creating a circular economy requires collaboration between governments, businesses, organizations, and individuals. By fostering partnerships, sharing knowledge, and pooling resources, we can develop innovative solutions that address the challenges of recycling and microplastics comprehensively. Collaboration can also facilitate the implementation of policies and regulations that promote sustainable practices across industries.


The issue of microplastics and the challenges of recycling emphasize the need for a holistic and inclusive approach to waste management. Recognizing the complexities of recycling and involving all stakeholders, including corporations, is essential for developing effective circular solutions. By investing in research and innovation, educating the public, and fostering collaboration, we can work towards a future where recycling truly becomes a sustainable and environmentally friendly process. Let us embrace the complexity of the issue and strive for inclusive circularity in our pursuit of a plastic-free world.

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