“While there ought to be a fine for Christmas lights, carcasses and artillery shells, for the most part the answer to contaminated recycling streams is not to keep berating consumers over getting Resin Code 5 wrong, but to commit to advancing clean plastic technology. Even if consumer participation in recycling were 100 percent, we wouldn’t be close to recycling 100 percent of the material, said chemical engineer Megan Robertson, who co-wrote a piece in Science last November on the future of plastics recycling. Much consumer waste is simply not recyclable, often because it combines materials. . . .
“Curing the plastic problem is a lot like fighting cancer. Even if everyone stopped smoking, there would still be cancer. And even if we all figure out whether our municipalities accept yogurt containers, plastic waste will still pollute the environment. Compliance won’t be a cure until innovations from the lab set us up for success.”