...bottle caps...yogurt containers...disposable utensils...coffee lids...poly-coated frozen food boxes...straws...fast-food containers...styrofoam...paint buckets...six-pack rings....plant pots...cd cases...cosmetic containers...old toothbrushes...
This is the petrochemical detritus of our modern life. While nature recycles its detritus for nutrients, reincorporating it back into a sustainable system, our man-made plastics are “landfill”, literally filling the land, as well as our oceans, with non-biodegradable, non-renewable, toxic garbage. Rarely recycled, plastic accounts for an estimated 25% of all landfill space, and it is the fastest growing portion of municipal solid waste (plasticdebris.org). According to the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, only 3.5% of plastic is recycled in any way, and 60-80% of all marine debris is now plastic. Here in Philadelphia, we only recycle 7% of our total waste, and have only recently begun to collect #1 and #2 plastics curbside.
So what is the answer? Obviously, the main thing we all can do is expand our understanding of plastic waste to include more than just plastic bags and water bottles. Sure, it’s great to bring your own bag to the store, but not filling that bag with products packaged in plastic is just as important. You might choose organic produce, but if it is put into plastic bags and trucked hundreds (or thousands!) of miles, the whole concept of sustainable agriculture is being polluted. Water and soda bottles may be recyclable in some areas, but the market for products made from recycled plastics cannot keep pace with our consumption, so a better solution is to not buy these products in the first place. Also, convenience foods and beverages are often packaged in plastic or styrofoam, but a great deal of evidence now suggests that chemicals like antimony, DEHP (di-2-ehtylhexyl phthalate), bispehonal-A and the carcinogenic benzene and styrene make their way into the foods and liquids they hold, which is reason enough to avoid them. And finally, plastics are made from petroleum, an often overlooked aspect of our dependency on foreign oil, so any efforts to shift to renewables must include not just new fuels but alternatives to all petrochemical products.
Many alternatives exist, such as:
- stainless steel water bottles at www.kleankanteen.com (sold locally at Mugshots Coffeehouse)
- stainless steel lunch/to go containers at www.to-goware.com
- reusable cotton produce bags and biodegradable containers/plates/cutlery at www.greenhome.com
- many bags/utensils/bottles at reusablebags.com
- soy wax paper (regular wax paper is petroleum based paraffin) at www.greenfeet.com
- If You Care 100% recycled aluminum foil at Whole Foods
- BioBag biodegradable trash/pet waste/lawn bags at www.ecoproducts.com
Hopefully, as demand increases for these products, more will be available locally, to avoid shipping...
For those products with no reasonable alternatives (toothbrushes?) or that you are not prepared to live without (yogurt?) there is:
Recycling Services, Inc. (recyclingservices.org)
365 Elm Street Pottstown, PA 19465
Open Tuesdays and Saturdays from 9:00am-1:00pm
It is well worth the trip to visit this amazing facility (about 45 minutes from Philadelphia) that takes everything listed at the beginning of this post, and MUCH more (see website for complete list). Also, you can save up your recyclables with family and friends, so that you only have to make the trip once or twice a year.