Is it a plastics problem or a recycling problem?
Having only been in the plastics industry for 5 short years, I have conflicting feelings on the use of plastics. Of course, I want to save the environment–who doesn’t? I hear all the anti-plastic media hype with pictures of sea turtles that are trapped in the beer can holders. I see the pictures of plastic waste in the ocean and it breaks my heart, and it should. But, what I don’t hear about is how much plastic has changed our lives for the better.
Let’s paint a picture. Imagine you are going in for surgery tomorrow and you need to have an IV put in, guess what that tubing is made of? Yep, you guessed it, PLASTIC, or silicone of some type. I admit, I am not the plastics expert. I don’t know all the right terms. You need a knee replacement or a hip replacement. Guess what those “parts” are made of…PLASTIC!
My son had heart surgery at 2½ years old. I have a photo of him after surgery with tubes sticking out of him all over, all of which are made of some type of plastic. If the plastics industry started posting those types of images all over the internet to tear at the heartstrings of human nature, how do you think people would feel about plastics then? Would plastic still have this stigma that it does now?
We keep hearing in the media that plastic bags are bad. Plastic straws are bad. Any kind of single-use plastics are bad for the environment. But is cutting down trees to make paper bags and paper straws good for the environment? I imagine that there are some chemicals that aren’t good for the environment used in this process, as well. And what about those reusable bags the grocery stores are always pushing us to buy in order to be more environmentally friendly. I wonder, do people realize that in the material content of those reusable bags is, you guessed it, PLASTIC! It’s kind of hypocritical if you think about it.
I found out shortly after starting to work in the plastics industry that single-use plastic bags are, in fact, recyclable. Many people don’t know that. They may not break down quickly in our landfills, but they can be recycled. I never paid much attention, but our local grocery stores have bins for you to dispose of your single-use plastic bags so they can be RECYCLED. Does anyone utilize this?
It is my opinion that if you make it easier for people to recycle, they will do it. If it isn’t simple, they won’t.
Where I live, we have single stream recycling. It’s easy, I don’t have to separate anything. I can put glass, paper, plastic, or cardboard all in one bin and the recycling company comes every other week to pick it up. I recycle because it’s easy for me and doesn’t cause me any extra effort to throw it in the recycling bin versus the trash bin. However, I have visited different parts of the country and I am shocked to hear that they don’t recycle at all. They don’t recycle because it’s not easy for them. They would have to separate everything and physically bring it to the recycling center which isn’t on their way anywhere. So, they just throw it all away. This boggles my mind. Recycling is just a normal thing here in New England.
Recycling needs to become more standardized. For instance, if single-stream recycling, like where I live, was implemented across all of the United States, maybe consumers would be more inclined to choose the recycling bin over the trash bin, or worse; litter. Our industry needs to do a better job of educating consumers about what can be recycled and how to properly dispose of it; and consumers need to be willing to put at least some effort into recycling. Especially now that we can see firsthand how improper disposal of plastics is damaging our planet. If we all did our part to recycle regularly, would plastics be so bad?
Articles that inspired this piece.
Plastic Straw Ban: Whole Foods Joins List in Banning Plastic Straws
Lessons from a plastic bag stuck in a tree in Ohio