Skip to main content

Confused about recycling? It’s not your fault - Shannon Odell


2,888 Questions Answered

Earth School

Let’s Begin…

If you’ve ever looked at the bottom of a disposable bottle or cup, you’ve probably noticed a recycling symbol. Seeing this, many people assume the item should be put in a recycling bin. Yet many plastics are incapable of being recycled at most centers. In fact, only 9% is recycled each year. So why are so few plastics recycled? And what do these symbols actually mean? Shannon Odell investigates.

Additional Resources for you to Explore

Some Basics

If you want to learn more about the history of plastics, this Ted-Ed video is a good place to start. If you're curious about what exactly happens when you throw plastic away, head here.
The Scary Side of Plastics

Plastics threaten people, the planet, and animals due to their non-biodegradable nature and widespread usage. And, as we know from the video, they are much harder to recycle than you might think. First and foremost, plastic pollution has devastating effects on marine life and terrestrial ecosystems. Animals often mistake plastic for food, leading to ingestion and subsequent harm to their digestive systems, sometimes causing death. Plastic waste also contaminates water sources, threatening human populations with harmful chemicals and toxins. Additionally, the production and incineration of plastics release greenhouse gases, contributing to climate change and negatively impacting the planet's health. Microplastics, tiny particles resulting from plastic degradation, have been found in various food sources, potentially harming human health.

Some Big and Small Solutions

Many nations have implemented policies to reduce single-use plastics, encouraging the use of eco-friendly alternatives. Recycling infrastructure is being improved, with advancements in technology enabling the processing of more types of plastic. Some countries have even banned certain types of plastics to curb pollution. Corporations are also recognizing their responsibility and are investing in research to create biodegradable plastics and exploring innovative ways to recycle and break down existing plastic waste. Collaborations between governments, non-profit organizations, and businesses are fostering awareness and education about plastic pollution. Additionally, international agreements and initiatives encourage nations to combat the issue collectively. While challenges persist, these combined efforts signify a positive shift toward a more sustainable future, where plastic pollution is minimized and recycling processes are maximized.

Next Section »

Watch the video and finish the Think section to complete the lesson.

About Earth School

We can save the world. Speed and Scale shows us how to unlock a cleaner, healthier and safer future by laying out a roadmap that will get us to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. How’s it going to work? We need to electrify transportation, decarbonize the grid, fix food, protect nature, clean up industry and remove carbon. To learn how we’re going to do all that - and to learn how you can take action now - explore this page.

Meet The Creators

  • Video created by TED-Ed
  • Lesson Plan created by TED Ed

More from Earth School