Week 2 was a little easier than week one because I was not travelling or eating at fast food places. The week started out great and then got more difficult as I got busier. I used three plastic disposable cups, but no plastic cutlery, mini moos or anything like that. I specifically asked not to be brought straws. I had my own water bottle and coffee cup so did not need to use disposables when I was at a meeting. I was horrified, however, to learn that a large and reputable co-working venue had no recycling! I ended up taking piles of flip chart paper home to recycle because I couldn’t stand for it to be thrown away. But my heart was heavy knowing that everyday, people are using paper, cups and bottles and just tossing them. The lack of of recycling is very much on my mind. A family member just moved into an apartment and there is no recycling in the entire complex!
I turned my attention this week to my home convenience food. We buy a lot of products from Trader Joes and Kroger. There is a lot of room for improvement here but I am not sure how to approach it. Most everything is packaged in plastic. I never buy their – or anyone else’s – plastic-packaged vegetables. I shop at places where I can buy unwrapped cucumbers, broccoli etc. but the entrees and snacks in commercial venues are what’s tough. Frozen fish, frozen tamales – actually – most anything frozen is wrapped in plastic. I found out that you can’t recycle these kinds of wrappings because: “Many of these bags may contain a barrier polymer or other additives that is not the polyethylene (#’s 2 and 4) plastic that recyclers want. These polymer barriers help protect the food and extend shelf life but recyclers consider them to be a contaminant in the recycling bin.” (more FAQs about recycling here.) And here’s a thought for you: Over one billion plastic bags are used around the world and only 3% are recycled. (Georgia Recycling Coalition)
I also researched glass because there is a lot of variety in who takes glass. It used to be that glass was always preferable to plastic but with better plastic recycling and reduced glass recycling, I wasn’t so sure. In general: glass can be recycled again and again into glass but it is heavier, takes more energy to transport and comes with more breakage and damage and has a low return on investment because it is subject to waste and contamination due to breakage and mixing of different kinds of glass. The most effective glass recycling is one that separates out colors and types. It is not toxic in landfills but is inert and thus doesn’t decompose.
Plastic is hard on the environment to produce, is only ever “downcycled” into other products – not turned back into plastics. It is toxic in landfills. Some sources say that it is actually more environmentally friendly to use plastic than glass but not surprisingly, that information comes from the plastics council. All the environmental science points to toxicity in landfills and oceans. It may be that if there was universal recycling, plastic may be a better option but until then, it’s better to reduce use whenever possible. It’s kind of like nuclear energy – it may produce good energy but the cost of use and impact is way too high!
This being the connected world, there are already people doing the hard work of compiling tips for a plastic-free life. Check out Beth Terry’s blog. Starting Saturday I will do the plastic challenge and share the results. I’m also officially participating in Plastic Free July – care to join me?
None of this is easy and I have to figure out where my lines are and what my family is willing to participate in. I do know that for me, it’s not enough to simply carry a coffee cup and not use plastic bags. I have to take it deeper than that and yet still be able to function in society. Like confronting and dismantling systemic racism, there are small steps and big steps.