No doubt about it, plastic can be a lifesaver. Or at least make life convenient. But it can be lethal too. The latest plastic news that hit the media was relating to Bi Phenol – A (BPA) found in popular Nalgene water bottles and baby bottles. But it’s also in places that we can’t even imagine….like on the lining of milk cartons and on organic banana stems!! Even the famous Tupperware products aren’t free of BPA. Please read Plastic and BPA article by Paul Gottelich. After reading it, you’d probably want to throw away every plastic object in your house. But then, where would they all go? Mostly to landfills. And some may eventually end up in the waters and destroy marine life. Unfortunately, not all plastic is recyclable. So the ultimate solution is not to make plastic products – go back to basics and use natural resources like metal, wood, and ceramic or stone from Earth. So even when we throw them away after we are done using them, at least, they will be returned back to earth where we found them and become renewable natural resources again. But we know that’s not possible.
So if you have to think about using whether plastic or paper or a reusable grocery bag, choice should be very clear. I think store should eliminate giving out plastic bags. Instead, have customers bring their own bags. I’m sure it was done that way before the invention of plastic shopping bags. Meanwhile, what do we do with all this plastic? Well, let’s see what we’ve been saying about plastic and try to decipher some of the myths and facts.
Myths about Plastic and Recycling
Myth # 1: Plastics that get picked up for curbside recycling get recycled. Not necessarily. Collecting plastic containers at curbside doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be converted to useful products. They may actually end up being turned into non-recyclable products like textiles, parking lot bumpers, or plastic lumbar. This does not reduce waste forever but just temporarily and they all end up in landfills eventually.
Myth # 2: Curbside collection will reduce the amount of plastic landfills. Again , not necessarily. Recycling program may encourage more people to use plastic, thinking it may seem more environmentally friendly, requiring more plastic packaging, causing more plastic waste. Since only a curbside program could realistically collect a fraction of certain types of plastic, the net impact of initiating curbside collection could be an increase in the amount of plastic in landfills. In addition, since most plastic reprocessing leads to secondary products that are not themselves recycled, as in Myth #1, this material is only temporarily diverted from landfills.
Myth# 3: A chasing arrows symbol means a plastic container is recyclable. Not true. Every plastic container is marked with the chasing arrows symbol but the important information is the number inside the symbol, which indicates the general class of resin used to make the container. The attorneys general of 11 states objected to false and misleading claims about plastic recyclability. The recent settlement that they reached with the American Plastics Council paves the way for a first-ever definition of what claims can or cannot be made about plastic recycling and recyclability.
Myth # 4: Using plastic containers conserves energy. Not really. Making plastic containers uses as much energy as making glass containers from virgin materials, and much more than making glass containers from recycled materials. Using refillables is the most energy conservative.
Myth# 5: Our choice is limited to recycling or wasting. Definitely not true. Reducing the source reduction, petroleum and natural gas, is preferable for many types of plastic -meaning, reduce the reasons to use plastic as consumers. The options include using refillable containers, buying in bulk, buying things that don’t need much packaging, and buying things in recyclable and recycled packages. Plastic packaging has economic, health, and environmental costs and benefits. While offering advantages such as flexibility and light weight, it creates problems including: consumption of fossil resources; pollution; high energy use in manufacturing; accumulation of wasted plastic in the environment; and migration of polymers and additives into foods.
One of the biggest myths about recycling is that people think everything that is made of plastic is recyclable. That’s not true.Take these plastic plastic bottle caps from water and soda bottles or milk and orange juice cartons. These caps are made with different polymers and resin from the bottles themselves and are NOT recyclable. You have to take the caps off before you put out the bottles to curbside for recycling. I used to throw them away but now, I’ve found another purpose for them. I think they are really cute and functional since they are magnets. I am working on making some more items with them so check my shop often.
Look at these pictures below of various types of plastics we have in an average household. Even healthy foods like Tofu and mushrooms come in containers that are NOT recyclable. Surprises there. I am happy to say though, the ecologically conscientious companies like Mrs. Meyer’s, Eco, Seventh Generation, and Ecover make their plastic bottles that are recyclable. Yay!
Although some say “microwave safe,” like this take-out container, I NEVER microwave foods in it.
So to sum it all up, #1 and #2 are recyclable but the rest are up to the town’s recycling haulers. Check with your sanitation department to see which ones they will pick up for recycling. My town only takes #1 and #2 for recycling. So I try to reuse the rest of the plastics for non-food purposes or I have to throw them away (cringe.) In fact, the tofu and mushroom containers above are in my craft room holding valuable supplies.
As suggested by all the health gurus, I try to drink a lot of water. I used to buy cases of Poland Springs and stack them in my garage so that I can grab one to go or put them in kids’ bags as they are running out the door. But I stopped buying plastic water bottles when I realized how much plastic we were contributing to the environment…about 48 bottles a week! So I started to carry refillable stainless steel, not aluminum, water bottles. I bought enough bottles for the family and now we carry our water bottles. I also make sports drinks in these for the kids and not buy the plastic bottled ones. I’ve been using water filters in my house for years but never filled portable water bottles out of convenience. But now, not only carrying my own drinks saves me over $600 a year, I am reducing plastic waste and having less direct contact with plastic. Theoretically, water bottles are recyclable (marked #1) if they are disposed of properly but many of them end up in trash or eventually in rivers, affecting marine life in local rivers and as far as the oceans.
By the way, since we are talking about water….while looking to photograph various bottles under the sink, I saw my hard working water filters. Do you see how dirty my water filters are? You can’t see the second one that’s hiding behind the one in the front but that one is twice as dark as the one you can see. Gross! And we are suppose to have one of the best water system in the county! Yeah, right. I have filters in my shower heads too. I wouldn’t want those contaminants being absorbed into my system through my skin!!!
Still confused what to recycle? Check out this page on recycling… It’s very clear on what you can and can not recycle. But one phone call to your recycler will clear up any more confusion.