Congratulations fellow eco-enthusiasts, you’ve made it to part three, give yourself a pat on the back for trudging through part two. If you haven’t read either of the predecessors to this addition, you should do so! The two previous articles establish a foundation of understanding this critical final addition: so what can we do about plastic?
This is where we hold hands and fly back to our earliest memories of Earth Day. A day where chained school children were set free to frolic in the wilds. Planting trees, cleaning rivers, singing songs, reducing-reusing-and recycling with smiles as wide as the polluted Ganges river. As kids, the idea of a healthy planet was a fun, and obvious one —so all creatures, from the slimiest slug to the cutest panda, could live in a fresh, clean space.
However, right around growing up and moving out, my own fervor died down. Once the burden of recycling became my burden and not somebody else’s, recycling left my mind. It wasn’t until my college years did it guiltily come back, although the practice only applied to cardboard, PBR, glass, and compost, — never plastic. It wasn’t spoken about in those grade school classrooms, and it wasn’t spoken about in college.
I will admit something to you reader: until I started my research on this very series, I did not know how or where or even if I could recycle plastic. It simply never occurred to me as….an option.
This is a disturbing fact, but also a hopeful confession, because I know my story is so similar to my fellow Americans, and look at me now!
What was the point of that nostalgic exercise?
Changing one’s habits requires energy. Remember that childhood love for Earth Day, the obviousness of protecting the planet and animals. The gentle warmth of planting life in a tiny hole. The power of controlling the destiny of our waste, and not the other way around. This is positive energy, innocent from apathy and inconvenience, and is necessary to harness,— if we wish to change.
After you’ve harness your eco-friendly juju, the next step is to recall this image here:
Although, I believe, a more helpful image is this one:
The Reduce-Reuse-Recycle, or the 3 R’s, is a slogan that started alongside the birth of Earth Day in 1970. It was chanted at festivals and printed on signs, It’s intention was to simplify the individual actions behind reducing waste. Reduce the amount of trash you create, Reuse items that were often single-use, and finally, Recycle all that is able to be recycled.
A little about Earth Day: The 60’s was an actual time of awakening. Folks were becoming increasingly aware of the damage brought on by the mass consumption of the 1950’s. A growing distaste of environmental exploitation formed as science improved and catastrophic accidents took place. The most famous being the Santa Barbara Oil Spill of 1969, which was the final straw. Concerned for the environment and flourishing movement, a Wisconsin senator, Senator Gaylord Nelson, proposed a series of teach-ins about climate action – which were coined “Earth Day.” It took off on a national scale.
Unfortunately, simply saying “recycle”, or chanting the 3 R’s is a misleading notion. Often, the three terms are thought of as “one or the other”, instead of “one THEN the other”. Moreover, a crucial step in the cycle is left out: prevention.
The expanded triangle chart explains the correct process. Here’s how it goes: Best option, in the case of plastics, avoid purchasing plastic using things,— opt for more sustainable products. Next best option, of the stuff you certainly need and cannot avoid, reduce as much as possible. Next step, reuse everything you can beyond its original purpose. Finally, once the product has exhausted all its possible uses, recycle. Take note that recycling is a final option in the cycle, as it is the least preventative. Obeying this chart is our best tool for waste management.
Of the global 380 million tons of plastic produced and used each year, 9 to 12% of all American used plastics are actually recycled. In other words, 88-91%of plastic is not recycled. That’s pathetic. 18% of our landfills are just plastic, that could have been not used, reused, or sent somewhere else to be recycled.
Slowly this nation is coming to awares on the botched and curseded creation that is plastic. A small portion of the nation is already changing what producers produce around them. From previous plastic packaging, to cardboard packaging, or biodegradable packaging and more. In several states, plastic bags have been banned or have additional fees to their use. Lets not forget the straw ban, too!
This proves that even with a little push, our corporate overlords respond,—something about the people having all the power… Your dollars or rather lack of dollars are what these people listen to, truly. When you choose the boxed water over the bottled water, the overlords see, seethe, and eventually bow to our will.
So in the spirit of avoiding plastic products, try other products that offer sustainable packaging. Oftentimes a thing you need will change its packaging based on size. The small package of Morning Star breakfast sausages that I crave is plastic. However, if you buy a bulk amount, it comes in a cardboard box.
Stay hydrated and contiencius with a metal bottle for water, — they are like 1 buck at your local Goodwill and come in all sizes. Fill one and leave it in your car, get another and keep it in your purse or in your backpack. Plastic bottles are the largest offenders in single-use, plastic waste, so just eliminate your need to purchase bottled water by already possessing water.
FYI, for the second year running, Coca-Cola is the biggest polluter of plastic bottles,In the US it is the dark lord Nestle.
Nowadays these cool water filling stations are everywhere to fill up your canteen, too. They tell you just how many bottles of water have been avoided by using the station and the numbers are always astonishing.
Speaking of single use – stop that! Stop the styrofoam bullshit and plastic sporks that don’t work anyway. Keep a camping multi-tool on you, here is a cool one for 8 bucks. If a restaurant is using non-recyclable to-go containers, tell them you’ll bring your own. Buy from places that use the cardboard containers, not the wax sealed ones, but these guys instead.
Say nay to tupperware! Purchase glass, stainless steel or ceramic kitchenware. When looking for containers, there’s plenty of non-plastic options that need your support. Besides, ceramics make you look like a classy Earthling. Beeswax, cotton or compostable wraps do exist in place of plastic options.
I understand that currently we can’t outrun them all. There are a few of us who are stable and focused enough to do so, but a large majority of us struggle. There will be times where completely avoiding plastic is not doable. That’s okay. Sometimes the constant focus is exhausting, that’s also okay. Try for 100% in the easy areas, and when forced to purchase plastic, opt for “better” plastic.
If you’re wondering what “better” plastic is, that largely is determined on where you live. A “better” plastic would be one that your local recycling can actually reuse. Being able to identify plastic resin codes helps you choose “better” plastics when absolutely necessary.
On each plastic item should be a little number telling you just who they are, and where they go.
Go ahead, grab the plastic cup near you and have a look. Mine here says 5,— that means PP, or Polypropylene. Meaning it’s maybe recyclable, It’s less, nationally speaking, recyclable than the other numbers. In Eugene, Oregon, #2, #4 and #5 plastics are accepted if cleaned and stripped of labeling. Luckily, you can deposit these in with your regular recycling. The other 4 types are unable to be recycled. So if you see something in Eugene with the code of #3, but there’s a similar option at a resin code of #2, opt for the one that you can recycle.
Every county is different, though. I urge you to look up your county’s recycling system. Find out what types they take. Find out if they take plastic at all. After China stopped accepting our recycling in 2019, which brought prices on tons of plastic down enormously, many counties in the US have been completely unable to process or afford plastic waste. Eugene is a small exception, which Eugeneins should use to their utmost. However, if you live in the boonies, your best option is going to be prevention, —radical prevention. Because all the plastic you consume is going to the landfill, or to the environment.
- Bring cloth bags shopping. Do not accept plastic bags of any sort.
- Shop the local farmers market. Not much plastic wrapping there.
- Reuse chemical bottles – there are places, often bulk places, that let you refill your soap and bleach bottles. You can also mix your own cleaners.
- Check your products for microplastics. Face scrubs are one.
- Use items that have replaceable applicators – like razors with replaceable heads or electric toothbrushes with replaceable heads.
- Get tampons without applicators. It’s time, you can do it.
- Bring glass jars to fill with bulk foods. I do this with my oatmeal, my rice, my beans, and they even end up being cheaper this way.
- Stop using single use plastics. Stop it, stop it, stop it.
- Get a metal thermos. Use them when going out. No more bottled water or bottle sodas. I know the pandemic has made this nearly impossible – but ask. You’d be surprised at those willing to “wash” your thermos and use it. If they can’t, which is totally cool and don’t be upset if they can’t, use their paper option. Also, opt for aluminium or paper options, always.
- On that note, think more bulk. Buy items that try their best to be cardboard or glass. Respect their effort with your dollars.
- Bring stainless containers for leftovers or take-out.
- Myplasticfreelife.com is a great resource for further ideas
Whatever clever trick you have, even down to the smallest avoidance – prevention is the most valuable tool we have. I’m not talking about medical equipment and other plastic uses that have a real, sanitary value in our world. I’m talking about the needlessly plastic, single-use items first, then on down the list of items, substituting one plastic convenience for something eco-friendly, —every little bit counts.
Beyond the tips and tricks of plastic avoidance, start paying more attention to your local landfill and recyclery. If a local election comes up concerning waste management, look into it. See who has visionary ideas for recycling, and who could care less. Vote not only with your dollars, but also your tallies.
Sign petitions against Coca-cola, Nestle and other egregious offenders of plastic use. Tons of petitions against these companies, single-use plastics and other wasteful, abuse of plastic petitions exist at change.org. Believe it, signing your name does add up.
There are many, many more – but these presently have a lot of steam behind them.
Currently in Oregon, there are several anti-plastic acts trying to budge themselves out of committee and into legislation. This includes the Break Free From Plastics Pollution Act reintroduced by Oregon Senator Jeff Merkely, and the House Bill 2592 introduced by Representative Janeen Sollman. They both tackle single-use, misleading claims on recyclability, misuse of plastic packaging and more. Additional Oregon plastic bills are:
Senate Bill 14 introduced by State Senator Lee Beyer
House Bill 2065 introduced by Governor Kate Brown
Senate Bill 582 by State Senator Dembrow
There’s more cooking, but noticing who is backing what and why is important information on who you vote for re-election, or not vote for. Second to burning corporations to the ground, dollars and bills (as in legislation) are the language of these nasty giants. We can speak, and should.
I’ve said it again, and again, and will again – every bit counts. Go big when you can – you can eliminate that estimated 167 plastic bottles of water used by an American each year by having a single thermos. That alone is so easy, and so impactful.
Try your best to turn, however slightly or completely, 180 degrees away from using plastic. Urge those you love to try it too. Living sustainably is the most loving form of appreciation we can show the planet and its inhabitants. We are not wasteful, pillaging pilgrims. This land is not a god given right – it is a privilege. So let’s leave it better than we found it.
Alright, this three part series is over, please leave comments, your own personal tips, or areas to expand upon.