Single Use Plastic and Recycling
A straw with a drink, a plastic takeout bag, wrappers on food, produce grocery bags. It's insane to think about how many items we use on the daily are single-use plastics that we are conditioned to accept as normal. Each, being extremely convenient, have a lasting environmental price.
This plastic-problem will be something we will be dealing with for lifetimes to come, as it has caused major impacts on oceans, ecosystems and our health.
What are Single-Use Plastics?
Single use plastics are manufactured from fossil fuel-based chemicals. Before plastics, paper and glass packaging was used but starting around the 1970s, plastic use boomed.
We have normalized a throw-away culture, constantly prioritizing convenience over investing in quality goods that can be reused This throw-away culture causes as accumulation of waste that is resulting in long-term impacts that last for millennia. Plastic waste is not the only negative impact, the actual production of plastic is also a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
Obviously, reducing plastic use is the most effective way to solve this problem. Using reusable water bottles, investing in glass tupperware or silicone lids, not using plastic take-out silverware or straws, bringing a reusable bag to the grocery store, etc. EASY changes that do not break the bank and are truly NOT that inconvenient.
Lets talk Recycling
Recycling plastic is also effective, but only when it's done correctly. For example, Polyethylene terephthalate makes up most bottles and can be recycled back into many different materials. But most plastic does not end up being recycled and gets tossed into a landfill where it can last basically forever, leaching chemicals into soils. Plastics do not really ever break down, they become smaller and smaller until they are considered micro-plastics.
Micro-plastics are almost impossible to regulate and make their way into ecosystems, disrupting chemical cycles and causing life-ending health issues to organisms. Eventually making their way back to us when we consume these organisms.
Recycling is good and bad. There is a messy side behind it, a lot of major countries end up exporting their plastic waste to developing countries to recycle. Unfortunately, these countries often don't have the means to properly recycle plastics and end up causing more harm. There are a lot of myths behind recycling plastics, but it is worth it. It created jobs, reduces litter and promotes more sustainable living practices.
How Should I Recycle? (Different Types of Plastics)
On plastic materials there is a tiny triangle with a number inside (RIC), often on the back of the item. This identifies the type of plastic and therefore the appropriate way to go about recycling/disposing of it.
PET (Polyethylene terephthalate): These are the most common and easily recycled plastics. They will have a #1 inside the triangle. They consist of soda/water bottles, medicine containers, and most other product containers. They are important to recycle because they can be repurposed into many other materials like fiberfill for coats and sleeping bags, combs, and even furniture. These can be disposed of in your recycling bin at home!
HDPE (High-density polyethylene plastics): This grouping consists of larger plastic containers like detergent bottles, milk, shampoo, motor oil, etc. They will have a #2 inside the triangle. They can be recycled into things like toys and rope. Also very important to recycle and can be put into your recycling bin at home.
V (Vinyl): This grouping consists of plastic pipes, shower curtains, tubing, etc. It will have a #3 inside the triangle. It can be recycled into vinyl flooring, pipes and even window panes. Check with your local recycling centers to see if it is acceptable to put in your bin at home or if you need to recycle it elsewhere.
LDPE (Low-density polyethylene): This grouping consists of thin flexible plastics, food wrapping like saran wrap and plastic bags. They will have a #4 inside the triangle. They can be recycled but NOT in your recycling bin at home. Some grocery stores have designated bins where you can recycle these materials, check with stores in your area. Better yet, just avoid using this type of plastic overall!
PP (polypropylene): This grouping consists of stronger plastics like food containers, plastic caps and straws. They will have a #5 inside the triangle. These can typically be recycled in your recycling bin at home but check with local facilities to make sure they can accept this kind of plastic. Tip: Make sure all food is washed out of containers!
PS (Polystyrene): This grouping consists of styrofoam materials, coffee cups, disposable cutlery, meat trays, packing peanuts, etc. They will have a #6 inside the triangle. This material is tricky, some polystyrene can be recycled but it is typically discarded at recycling facilities because it can cause complications. Check with local facilities if they accept polystyrene or for their recommendations of how to dispose of this material.
A challenge for you:
Try seeing how much plastic waste you create in a day, or even for a whole week. Set aside all the plastic that you accumulate during the time period you choose so you can assess your waste. See what you could have gone without or how you could have made a different decision to avoid a single-use plastic.
Don't be alarmed if you accumulate a lot of plastic waste, there any many times where you cannot avoid a single-use plastic. It starts with awareness, going through this exercise will help you make more conscious decisions going forward.