Good Morning. I hope you managed to survive our inland hurricane last week. We missed the excitement, but not the cleanup!
Today, I want to tell you a story that begins when I was still a kid in the '70s. In 7th grade, I had to write and present a persuasive speech. I chose, even then, to talk about waste reduction. I don't know if I persuaded anyone else, but I managed to thoroughly scare myself, that one day we will be mining landfills for metal, and I have been working to reduce waste ever since.
This is also about the time plastic started showing up in more and more items. I don't remember worrying too much 50 years ago, because I didn't think of plastic as something we would run out of, and i didn't realize that one day we would be drowning in it!
And then , in the 90's when plastic was everywhere, something new showed up-- that little recycling symbol.
Oh! We can recycle that now.
Oh! We can recycle it now
That's what I thought, and it's probably what you thought. So we all happily tossed our plastic in the recycle bin, and off we went. Then, in 2018, our recycling process became a lot more visible.
Here are some of the things we learned:
There are hundreds of kinds of plastic, not 7, and you can't mix them.
Recovering all the different shapes and sizes of plastic is a nightmare, even if you can pick out the type you want
Most plastics can only be recycled one or two times
Only squeaky clean plastic can be recycled
Companies change their plastic blend more often than they change their recycling symbol
It is much less expensive to make new plastic than recycle it
Most of our plastics are shipped out of country, where they are picked through for the small amount that is recyclable, and the remainder is burned (often for fuel), buried, or dumped at sea
Only plastics 1 and 2 and rarely, 5 are recycled in the US, and only if they are not contaminated
Only about 20% of plastics 1 and 2 are recycled
Here are some sources and more information about recycling today:
How Big Oil Misled The Public Into Believing Plastic Would Be Recycled NPR
Big Oil Is in Trouble. Its Plan: Flood Africa With Plastic NY Times
Plastics Industry Insiders Reveal the Truth About Recycling Frontline
Unheathy Air and Plastic Waste: The Nexus of Pollution, Public Health and Corruption Asia Global
How Up to 180,000 Tonnes of our Plastic Ends Up in the Sea RTERecycling in the US is Broken. How Do we Fix it? Columbia University
How much Plastic Actually Gets Recycled? Livescience
A pleasant, cheerful woman came up to me in the market a few weeks ago, and when I started talking about reducing plastics, she said "Oh, no worries! I recycle!" As you have seen here, all the best of intentions is not going to be enough recycling! And, these plastics end up in lots of places we don't want it. It is entombed in landfills for eternity, or until it becomes a toxic chemical that we don't want in our water. It gets shipped to less developed countries and burn, damaging the lungs of the people who live there. It ends up in our water system, including the ocean. It is broken into microplastics and eaten by creatures at the bottom of the food chain. It has been found in human and animal cells. This is an untenable situation.
We need to do more. Recycling is never going to be efficient or cost effective enough to solve plastic waste, even if it gets better than it is now. . So what can we do? Reduce, reuse, recycle just isn't enough any more.
We need to really expand our efforts. Take a look at these nine Rs from the GypsySoup Blog.
Rethink. Do you really need that? Can you get it used? Can you rent or share or borrow or make do instead? Can you get it used in paper, in glass, in bulk, unpackaged?
Refuse. I start every food order with "no straw or plastic cutlery, please. And I end them that way too. And then when they show up in my order, before I touch it, I say, oh, I'm sorry, you forgot to keep the straw. Can you grab it? Refusing isn't always easy!
Reduce. We have heard that for years. Keep it up!
Reuse. Do you have anything that you can make work? Plant your seed starts in an egg carton? Use an old spoon for a beach shovel? Dust with a worn out T shirt?
Re-gift. You are never going to build a fence again, but can someone else use that post hole digger? That lovely 3rd fondu pot you got for your birthday? Maybe you have a friend who would love it! I am loving 'buy nothing' facebook pages for regifting things as well as for being gifted things someone else is done with.
Repair. I know, it will probably be easier to buy a new vacuum, and surely faster, but you have to throw that whole thing away because you need a new cord? Bet you can fix it!
Rent. How often do you really use a carpet shampooer, or an 8 passenger van? Can you rent one when you need it?
Recycle. You really needed it. You used the dickens out of it. Now, can you recycle it?
Rot. If you managed to avoid the plastic, can you compost what you have left?
Avoiding plastic is a big one, that gets harder every year. The only power we as consumers have, is with our dollar. Make the plastic free choice. Even if it's a little less convenient. Vote with your dollars and your feet.
Wild Waters can help by providing plastic free options such as our hand crafted bar shampoo and our solid dish bars in our Sustainability Corner . Do you know, or have a local business that can help us avoid plastic? Share!