Demonizing Plastic

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog on recycling and some of the various ways even small things like mascara wands could be reused. I hope it helped people. Today, I want to look at claims I’ve seen on Facebook such as this one which states, “This family is giving up on plastic!” As much as I respect what the people are trying to do, it doesn’t seem realistic.

Gold Stars for the Attitude.

On one hand, I greatly applaud their attitude. Yes, the world needs less plastic. I completely agree that plastics, particularly one-use types are ruining the environment and humanity can certainly thrive with less plastic around. People should make changes in their lives to be less consumptive and eliminate one-use plastics from their homes. It’s great for the environment and saves money.

Another easy thought is that people can recycle the plastics as well. But that is not always true. Some one-off containers like Solo cups and yogurt containers are not recyclable. Many types, like Styrofoam and pill bottles are definite no-nos. The bottles are too small for the machines. The issues may also be getting worse too. Most of our plastic trash is sent to China to melt down and reform. China has stopped accepting our plastic and for now, recycle centers are having the mountains of bottles and containers. Until new factories are found or build, local collection centers may have to slow down on taking in plastics.

Demon Plastic!

However, I think people demonize plastic a lot. It’s evil! It kills! It’s got *gasp* chemicals! That’s just hype. Everything has chemicals, including your body. Plastic isn’t killing the animals. People’s garbage is. The plastic bottles and other garbage didn’t magically move from the factory into the ocean. Slobs put it there. Dumpers and litterers ruin our environment. So, let’s focus more on stopping them from killing the environment as we make changes to our use of plastics. Even if we got rid of all plastic in the world, the slobs and dumpers will still litter. A sea of dirty pizza boxes, bits of fabric, or aluminum cans are not healthy for wildlife either.

It’s Useful if Used Well.

Plastic is a material. A cheap material that has a lot of potential use. If you doubt this, then consider how much of your car is now more harden plastic than metal. Look at your hairbrushes, combs, TVs, some furniture, calculators, and even the computer device you are viewing this from. All plastic. Now imagine all that stuff made out of metal. If manufacturers did that, the prices would shoot up. We’d use up our limited metal resources a lot faster. Cardboard isn’t any better. Things would not last long nor be as safe if they were made out of some form of cardboard. Plus, the more we use paper products, the more we deforest the planet. Yes, we can recycle cardboard and paper but only the clean stuff. No matter how efficient recycling is, some portion of material is lost forever. So, step back a bit and think about alternatives before jumping onto the next seemingly obvious replacement for plastic.

We will probably never get rid of all plastic. The material is too useful to ignore. Nor is giving up on all plastics a viable idea for those on squeaky tight incomes. Sometimes being eco-responsible is easier if you have a comfortable income. Although I support using canvas bags instead of plastic and beeswax cloths rather than Saran wrap, these options must be purchased and they are not cheap. I bought a series of net bags for use in the produce section. I love them and now never have to hunt for the plastic sack rolls. However, they cost around $13 for 10. Ideally not a bad price but I can remember when $13 was an extravagance for my family’s budget.

Reduce One-Use Plastic? Great Idea!

Having said all of that, reducing plastic use is an excellent idea. Being eco-responsible means, we should remove one-off materials from our homes as much as reasonably possible. Here are a few suggestions that we’ve started in our house.

Plastic bottles

One-use plastics are what are really killing our environment.

Stop using straws: Let your lips actually touch the cup or glass. When the wait staff comes around and leaves straws on the table, be sure to hand them back. Otherwise, they will just be thrown away when you leave the table, ruining your good intentions. Another thought is to encourage your restaurants to use cardboard straws as some do now. If you must have a straw, buy bamboo, metal, or a hard reusable plastic one that doesn’t get thrown away.

Carry canvas bags: This is obvious but I’m surprised how many people don’t do it. Carry them in your car if possible. If you forget your bags at home, which I frequently do, then ask for paper, if it is an option. It is recyclable. In addition, use net bags for selecting your produce. Different types are on the market but my preference is for these because they are closeable. https://tinyurl.com/amazon-com-canvas-bags.

Use reusable boxes: How many of you use Ziploc bags? I was a fanatic about them because they were so easy to use. However, they filled my weekly garbage so I’m swearing off bags in favor of closeable plastic boxes for sandwiches and leftovers. Several hard-plastic boxes are on the market which hold sandwiches and sometimes other items. We use one that has two layers: a large lower space for the sandwich and an upper space for chips and veggies.

Buy soap bars: I know many of you are fans of liquid soaps. They smell great and are not as messy as soap bars. However, their plastic packaging is hard to recycle because of the pump parts. Instead, go back to bars, which are only wrapped in waxy paper. True, multiple bars are wrapped in clear plastic, but that is recyclable along with your grocery plastic bags. If you want to keep using a liquid soap, consider buying a glass container and buying the gallon size refillable soap bottles. That will at least reduce your reliance some on one-shot plastics.

Use reusable drinking cups: Everyone has talked about the evil of one-use water bottles. When we camped, we used them all the time. However, we invested in a few large, reusable plastic cups to replace these bottles. The cups were a little on the pricey side for the insulation, but we’ll save money in avoiding the bottled water.

Ask for biodegradable rings: By this I mean write to your favorite soda, beer, or energy drink supplier and ask them to replace their six-pack rings with biodegradable ones. Here is an article that offers more information on ones that double as fish food.

https://www.theverge.com/2016/5/19/11714552/beer-rings-fish-food-edible-saltwater-brewery

Finally, recycle all the items you can BUT follow the guidelines of your local recycler. For instance, the Solo plastic drinking cups are not recyclable. Neither are most yogurt containers. Be aware of what you can put into the blue bins because your mistakes can mess up a whole bale of plastics.Plastic bottles

Working together, we can make the world a better place and still live with some forms of plastic. The trick is to not waste even the plastics. Reuse or recycle them. We are too used to the idea of one-use items, and those are what clogs our waters, kills animals, and fills our garbage pits. The human race must turn away from use-and-throw-away thinking in order to save our ecosystem. I’m going to do my bit and change my small corner of the world. Are you?

 

 

 

Recycling Rules and Options

In writing a book about a family living inside an asteroid, I thought about how their daily lives were spent. One factor that became clear early on was that they must recycle and reuse just about everything. In a way this is like living in an Old West frontier town. Food was “canned” in reusable glass jars; old fabric found new uses in quilts, wiping rags, and smaller clothes; and tin cans became flower pots and storage areas. After all, these people knew that new items or replenishing their supplies meant a rare and expensive trip to the distant town. Another reason was that they probably didn’t want the trash to build up behind their homes. Our modern world could learn from such ideas.

I am an ardent recycler but it has become harder and more selective over the years. More than ten years ago, we took our bags of paper, cans, aluminum, newspapers to a central unit in a small town and dumped them in big bins. High school students fulfilled their community hour requirements by working there. The recycling center wanted it sorted and I didn’t care if it was in bags because I emptied the bags into the bin.

Fast forward to now. For the last ten years I’ve set up five separate “trash” cans in order to sort all my recycling and then just put each individual bag in the recycling bin for pickup. I figured the recycling people would be glad not to have to sort it themselves. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

reycling

The Recycle Porter County Facebook page has been posting do’s and don’ts and I’ve learned just how far off I’ve been. A video that they posted explained a lot about why they have restrictions on what is acceptable and not. Unfortunately, because the information has come in bits and bytes over several weeks, I became more confused than ever until I sorted through and pulled together all the information. So for those of you who want to know more, here is a condensed version of how to recycle in Porter and Lake County, Indiana.

Things to recycle at your curb (from the Indiana Waste Service page):

Paper: This includes just about most things you can think of including telephone directories, corrugated cardboard, office paper, and paperboard. No shredded paper though. Also make sure the boxes and magazines are clean. This means don’t put in that greasy pizza box or paint splattered newspaper.

Plastic: Bottles and containers only with the symbols of 1 through 5 in the recycling triangle are accepted. They must be rinsed out and clean. However, no K-cups, bottle tops or lids because they are all too small. Surprisingly so are pill containers.

Metal: Only aluminum or tin cans and steel. Don’t add the cut off or peeled off lids. This creates a hazard for the workers.

Glass: Brown, green and clear glass bottles are welcomed. The Center wants you to leave the caps on because the caps roll around in the machinery and jam it up. They also want the bottles rinsed out and cleaned. This means no sheet, broken, or window glass.

They suggest that you put everything in paper bags or dump them directly into the enclosed recycling containers. Big machines do all the sorting so no need to keep them grouped together.

Don’t rules for curbside pickup

No batteries, Styrofoam, plastic grocery bags, toys, or any form of electronics. No hangers, light bulbs, or ceramics. No plastic packing material from Amazon or anyone else.

recycling 2

Other Options for Recycling

Plastic grocery bags are easy. Most grocery stores have a drop-off box right inside their doors for old bags. In addition, you can add any clean cellophane wrappers like the plastic around toilet paper or Kleenex boxes. You can even add Saran wrap as long as it is clean. Also consider switching to reusable fabric or paper bags, which are recyclable, so you can stop using plastic bags.

Most lightbulbs can be dropped off at Home Depot, Lowes, and maybe even Menards for recycling, along with those rechargeable batteries that power tools use.

The Valparaiso Compost Site takes fluorescent bulbs and many electronics like TVs, computers, and disc players. They also take smoke detectors, batteries, and printer cartridges. You can drop them off at the same time as when you are getting rid of your branches from all the recent windstorms. Batteries can also be dropped off at all of these locations. Printer cartridges can also be taken to Staples or Home Depot and you can earn a small amount of cash rebates (given monthly) for each one.

Unusual Options for Recycling

Wands for Wildlife will accept old mascara wands to help with cleaning up animals. In truth I never thought about this one. However, more information is available here.

Pill containers can go to  Matthew 25 Ministries but you have to go to mail them in. So save up a bunch and then send a package to the address given at the website.

CDs, DVDs and their cases can all go to the CD Recycling Center of America. Just go to their website and print out a mailing label. Of course if you are into arts and crafts, check out Pinterest for a number of artsy ways to reuse these plastic discs.

Locally, Opportunity Enterprises welcomes donations of a number of objects including buttons, keys, beads, old CDs and DVDs, magazines, phonograph records, and more. Check them out at this page.

I hope this list helps you recycle better. So often people want to do the right thing and help the Earth. We should start thinking about our home as an isolated place with limited resources even though we are billions of people instead of a few. The billions will cause more damage if we as caretakers of the Earth don’t change our mindset. We can’t continue trashing it up. Like the frontier people, in space or otherwise, we need to recycle and reuse what we have and be smarter about how much we throw away.