Earth Day 2019: Why Recycling Alone Can't Fix Plastics Pollution

Earth Day 2019: Why Recycling Alone Can’t Fix Plastics Pollution

  • The Kane County Division of Environmental and Water Resources and Kane County Connects are “Counting Down to Earth Day” with a series of articles on “Going Green” in 2019. This article was contributed by Resource Management Coordinator Jessica Mino.

Our Countdown to Earth Day series wouldn’t be complete without mentioning one of the pivotal sustainability topics of our time: PLASTIC.

In previous articles, How to Combat Plastic Pollution and Say Goodbye to Plastic Straws – Then Take the Next Step, we have touched on why plastic can be so harmful to environmental and human health: impacting our drinking water, its inability to decompose, and the danger to wildlife.

And we all know it is important to recycle what we can (without “wish-cycling” as Recycling Coordinator Jennifer Jarland calls it).

The hard truth is this:

Recycling alone won’t get us out of this mess.

Of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic that has been produced, 6.3 billion metric tons has become plastic waste, according to the National Geographic article posted in December 2018. Of that, only nine percent has been recycled.

Why? This isn’t just a problem of people not recycling. Many types of plastic that are produced simply can’t be recycled — they are not made of types of plastic that can be re-manufactured.

So, where do we start? Half of all plastic manufactured becomes trash in less than a year, as the article explains. That is a good reason to start by reconsidering our plastic use.

As consumers, here are three questions we need to be asking ourselves:

Can I substitute for a re-usable item to manage single-use waste?

Beeswax wrap.

Really the BEST thing to do is find an item that is re-usable to replace single-use items, especially single-use plastic items. This cuts down on the amount of waste we are producing — period.

Adopting re-usable products is the ultimate goal, as the resources used to manufacture and recycle items intensifies environmental demands.

Examples: Bring your lunch in beeswax wrap or glass containers. Use re-usable utensils at lunch, during parties, and when grabbing take-out. Bring your own to-go mug to the coffee shop.

Can I find a similar item not made out of plastic?

Many plastic items have paper, metal, or glass alternatives.

Bamboo toothbrushes.

By purchasing items made out of other materials, you are not only reducing your plastic use, but also showing retailers and manufacturers that consumers prefer non-plastic items.

Using paper, metal and glass then encourage encourages manufacturers to make other items from alternative materials.

Examples: Toothbrushes made of bamboo are now available. Go for Q-tips with a paper stem rather than a plastic stem. Use cooking utensils made of wood (also easier on your pans).

Can I buy the same item NOT packaged in plastic?

This one may seem tricky, because most things seem to be packaged in plastic. The worst part is, the plastic packaging is not even the item that will be used; it is often just discarded.

But many things are offered in glass or cardboard containers, particularly due to consumer demand. You can be a part of the positive shift away from plastic packaging by being conscious about what the things you buy are wrapped in.

Again, it will take the consumer rejecting things in plastic packaging to encourage the shift toward alternative packaging. One company is even packaging liquid laundry soap in a paper carton after realizing this demand.

Examples: Choose produce that is free of packaging or bring your own cloth produce bag. Aim for food packaged in glass, cardboard, or metal over plastic. Choose the condiment that comes in a glass jar rather than the plastic tube.

Overall, working to limit plastic use and waste will have the greatest impact.

Check out these tips from the Plastic Pollution Coalition to start your journey toward a plastic-free lifestyle. Plus an additional 100 Steps to a Plastic-Free Life.

Read The Countdown To Earth Day Series!