Earth Day 2018: How Kane County Residents Can Combat Plastics Pollution

Earth Day 2018: How Kane County Residents Can Combat Plastics Pollution

  • This article, contributed by Kane County Recycling Coordinator Jennifer Jarland, is part of a 15-part series of tips on how to make a positive environmental impact in Kane County in preparation for Earth Day on April 22. 

Tip #6: Combat Plastic Pollution

Photo credit: Jennifer Jarland, Bermuda

Over the last decade, more and more things are made of plastic. Plastics are the bane of my educational endeavors because there are so many objects made out of it and most of it is not recyclable — even though the “number in the triangle” is stamped onto it.

A lot of plastic bags, bottles, straws, and packaging ends up roaming around in the environment breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces.

This pollution can be prevented by recycling your bottles (in the bin) and bags (at grocery stores) or by reducing your plastic use all together.

Forget The Number!

Let me start by saying that the chasing arrows triangle with the number in it DOES NOT mean that the plastic object is recyclable!

That symbol was unfortunately co-opted by the plastics manufacturing industry to indicate the type of plastic.

Manufacturers persist in printing the number in the recycling symbol despite recyclers and educators opposition to that practice, mainly because the product mold is made and it is costly to change it.

My best advice is to forget the numbers, and look to the shape for your guidance on what plastic is and what plastic is not recyclable.

If it is a plastic BOTTLE, TUB, JUG or JAR then recycle it. If it is any other shape do not recycle it! See here for Curbside Recycling Guidelines.

Bottled Water: Think Before You Buy

Bottled water is largely unregulated and often less clean than what comes out of your tap. It is expensive and creates waste.

The Take Back the Tap! article from the 2017 Countdown to Earth Day series explains.

Yes, plastic bottles are recyclable but only if they are actually recycled.

I recommend using a clean canteen that you can refill with perfectly good free water from the tap!

Plastic Bags: Recycle at The Grocery Store

Plastic bags should definitely not go in your recycling!

But if they are clean dry and empty you can recycle them at your local grocery store, along with several other kinds of bags and wrap.

See here for guidelines on Recycling Plastic Bags & Film.

Put Other Plastics In Trash

All of the other plastics, like chip and candy wrappers, straws, cups, lids, plastic packaging, plastic utensils and other non-recyclable plastic items need to be placed securely into the trash receptacles.

Obviously you do not litter and pick it up and throw it away if you see it out there as litter!

Plastic is Bad News For The Planet

Photo credit: Jennifer Jarland, Bermuda shoreline

These plastics when released into the atmosphere pollute both land and water, damage and even kill a wide range wildlife and sea life.

On a recent trip to Bermuda (a tiny island country in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean) I saw plastic fragments from around the world piled up on the beach.

You may have heard of the great Pacific Garbage Patch, but did you know there is one of those gyres in every ocean in the world?

Micro Plastics in Great Lakes

Plastic pollution is not limited to the oceans. It starts right here, impacting our rivers, streams, and lakes that contribute to Lake Michigan or the Mississippi River (then ending up in the Gulf of Mexico). USGS did a study on rivers that flow into the Great Lakes.

Photo credit: USGS, Fish from the Great Lakes Tributaries

According to USGS, microplastics were found nearly everywhere: from rivers and lakes to fish, oysters, mussels and in sediment.

The studies found plastic particles in twelve percent of freshwater fish. Ingesting plastics causes physical harm, and causes other contaminants released from unhealthy additives found in plastic particles to accumulate in the muscles and body tissue.

The problem then extends to the birds and other animals feeding on contaminated fish and shellfish.

This also impacts us as we often enjoy fish from the Great Lakes for dinner — coincidentally, the parts of the fish that we tend to eat are the parts where contaminants often accumulate.

USGS has found that there is one microplastic particle for every 8 gallons of Great Lakes tributary water, which is 112,000 particles per square mile of Great Lakes water. That is a significant amount of plastic in the water that we enjoy for recreational water sports, fishing and most importantly, drinking.

Personal Commitment to Reducing Plastic Waste

Photo credit: Jennifer Jarland, Plastics found in Bermuda

The best way to stop plastic waste is to use refillable water bottles, use cloth shopping bags and stop buying things packaged in plastic!

That can be a hard one since it seems like almost everything is packaged in plastic. But you could make a personal commitment to reassess your shopping habits and products to buy things wrapped in recyclable paper wrapping or boxes.

Buy in bulk at healthfood stores or the bulk sections at grocery stores — grains, cereals, beans, nuts, dried fruits — using your own reusable containers. Bring your own containers to restaurants for leftovers. Use reusable net bags for veggies.

The list goes on.

Earth Day Network

Read the ‘Countdown to Earth Day’ Series!