In a Dying World, Individuals Must Be the Agent of Change

I heard two disturbing news reports in the last two weeks. The first was how the carbon dioxide has reached record highs. Here is the story on USAToday, “Emissions of carbon dioxide into Earth’s atmosphere reach record high”. With evidence like this, it boggles the mind that anyone can possibly think that mankind isn’t responsible. In addition, the Scientific American  article, “CO2 Levels Just Hit Another Record-Here’s Why It Matters”, made the event sound like a domino effect in that the more the we have global warming, the more the ice caps melt, releasing ancient carbon compounds to add to the problem.

CO2 emissions

The second nightmarish article Came from Forbes Magazine, entitled “We’re Now at a Million Plastic Bottles Per Minute – 915 of Which Are Not Recycled”. The last blog I wrote was on how plastic was not going away so we must reduce our single-use containers: bottles, bags, straws, take out containers. I still proudly agree with this and would scream RECYCLE, REUSE, REPURPOSE! daily from the rooftops if that would help.

Government Help?

When I see news like this, I feel overwhelmed by the sheer numbers. Trillions of bottles, 37 billion tons of CO2 emissions due to humans. All those numbers must decrease dramatically and they must do so by 2030 or in 11 short years. Companies must be forced to change packaging and one way to do that is make plastic use not as profitable. Governments must enact legislation that encourages research into and development of more economically sound recycling technologies for plastics and other waste products. We need those industries inside the United States so when we have problems with China or other countries, it doesn’t shut down the recycling like it has this year.

For instance, a Utah based company, Renewlogy basically melts down plastic back to its carbon core and changes it to diesel, kerosene, light fuels, and natural gas. The natural gas is pumped back into the factory to keep the process going. The process has only a 5% waste and no toxic emissions. Unfortunately, this company is overwhelmed with supply now that China is refusing our plastic. We need more factories like this. If we can spend tax dollars bailing out the auto and bank industries, why can’t we create low interest development loans on these types of recycling or reusing industries?

Individual Help?

None of this answer what I or you can do now about rising CO2 and global warming. The options seem overly simplified for one individual, which is discouraging. Not just a drop in a bucket but a micron of effort in a container the size of the Empire State Building. But collectively we can make a difference if we all change our lifestyles. Think of it as one drop of rain doesn’t do much, but a thunderstorm swells streams and rivers. It is time for all of us to be that thunderstorm of change to so we can save our planet.

Plant a Tree, bush, or flowers, or lots of them. We need to reduce CO2 emissions and deal with what is in the atmosphere now. Plants are the natural recyclers of the air. However, Americans have cut down most of our original forests and South America is losing the great rainforest. One small way to fight back is to plant trees in your yard, bushes along your walkway, flowers in a bed—any plant will do. Your grass helps but larger plants can do recycle the air more. Trees are the best because of their massive size makes them large recyclers. Flowers also help bring back pollinating insects like bees and butterflies, which are in grave trouble as well.

Make good recycling choices. By that I mean carry the bottle/can you used in the car back home again to clean and recycle properly rather than throwing it in a local trash can. Know what your recycler will and will not take so that you don’t contaminate large loads of plastic. For instance, I just learned deli take-out containers used in many grocery stores are not recyclable. This includes the large hot-chicken boxes many grocery stores use. See the recycling rules here. 

reyclingReject single-use items. The easy step is using canvas and net bags in place of store plastics. Refuse to use straws in restaurants. If you want to focus on not using single-use plastic bottles, then buy all your soda/water/whatever drinks in aluminum or glass and then always recycle those containers. Even better, buy a reusable drinking container (lots of types available) and fill it up at water fountains.

Change your use-and-discard habits. So many things we throw away can be reused or donated for others. Can you turn that old leaking plastic container into something else? A planter? Some folks make CDs into toys or mandala art projects while others use them for mosaics. Several websites will tell you how. Consider making a rag rug out of old sheets, clothes, t-shirts. Lots of instructions are online for doing so. These are just a few ideas you can find by doing searches on the Internet.

Hopefully you already are an agent of change. I believe it is a learning process and I can always improve. However, we need more “rain drops.” We need friends encouraging each other to recycle and reject one-use items. We should teach our children a more sustainable lifestyle since it is their future that is endangered. We must vote in leaders willing to make the hard decisions to limit some wasteful/toxic industries while encouraging other renewable or recycling companies. We need sensible environmental legislation. With everyone being agents of a better world, we can create a global thunderstorm of change and stop humanity from drowning in a sea of carbon emissions.

 

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?