Most all of us recycle papers, cans, glass bottles, and plastic containers these days. And most of the plastic containers even have an RIC number on them that tells us the kind of plastic they are made of. Unfortunately, we now know that there are only two types of single-use plastic that can be usefully recycled: Polyethylene terephthalate or PET and high-density polyethylene (plastics #1 and #2, respectively). Further, it turns out that the US only recycles about 9% of containers! The rest of them end up in the dump (or in the past might have gotten shipped off to a 3rd world country).
In the future we may be able to get manufacturing industries to take responsibility for the reuse of all this “single-use plastic”. In the meanwhile, we need to replace our “recycle” philosophy with a “refuse, refill, reuse, and recycle” philosophy – to really take a bite out of single-use plastic waste.
Refuse to buy plastic containers whenever you can. Given a choice between a product in a plastic container or a cardboard container, try to buy the one in cardboard.
Refill a container whenever you can.
Reuse single-use plastic containers. Many are very strong and have tight lids that can last for many uses and washings. Examples are butter tubs, hummus containers, and restaurant “doggie-bag” containers. They easily replace Ziploc and Rubbermaid containers, and – especially – plastic bags. Think, if everyone used each of these “single-use” containers 5 or more times, how much plastic would be saved!
Here are some additional ideas each one of us can adopt, and which cost us absolutely nothing but a little thought.
- Stop using plastic straws.
- Avoid using Styrofoam – ever.
- Try to avoid using plastic wrap, whenever possible.
- Stop using single-use plastic water bottles. Drink water from the tap at home and carry a refillable bottle with you, when away from home.
- Avoid products that use plastic six-pack rings. (These rings are deadly to marine life; if you find them on the street or in a beach cleanup, immediately cut through all the loops and discard appropriately.)
- When shopping, make packaging a part of your buying decision. Can the container be easily recycled? Is it made of paper or a number “1” or “2” plastic? Can the printed material be easily removed from the underlying plastic container?
- Disposable coffee cups are very difficult to recycle, because of their plastic lining. Carry a reusable coffee cup in your car, and use it …or frequent coffee shops and fast-food restaurants who provide ceramic plates, silverware, and mugs for eat-in patrons. Be sure to ask for reusable utensils whenever you eat-in.
- Take reusable cloth or net produce bags, or small containers, with you to the grocery store to hold any fruits and vegies that don’t have a peel. (Another good use for those single-use containers.) Avoid separately bagging items with peels, like bananas, avocados, and oranges.
- Make it a point to praise restaurants who provide compostable take-out containers. Be a star and take a container with you to a restaurant to hold your leftovers!
- Refuse a bag when buying just a couple of items. And, of course, stop using single-use plastic grocery bags altogether. Taking reusable bags into the store is such an easy habit to learn – and single-use plastic bags are so hard to recycle.
The sooner we adopt ideas like these, the sooner birds, fish, AND HUMANS can begin eating less plastic.
Written by Guest Blogger and member of the Bucks Audubon Advocacy Committee, Jim Mansfield