Unless you’re a newer reader of my blog, you already know that I am passionate about this subject. In school, the 3 Rs were Reading, (W)Riting and (A)Rithmetic. In the ecological world, the 3 Rs are Reuse, Repurpose and Recycle. Repurposing something is my biggest weakness, as I don’t really have the creative gene that can pick up two (or more) used products having nothing in common and put them together to make a new, usable item. Perhaps that is why I was a loyal viewer of the TV show “Flea Market Flip”?
I do know of a few items that I am good at reusing, like plastic containers with lids that came filled with a grocery item (think whipped topping, cottage cheese, yogurt, etc.) The plastic containers are ideal for when I went to share something yummy I’ve made, because I don’t have to worry about a good container never being returned to me. I have a handful of large prescription medicine bottles for which I have a vague plan the next time I go through all of my craft stuff.
But, when it comes to recycling, I’d like to think of myself as a pro. I contacted our borough office to find out where I could find a list of what our trash company will consider for recycling. I printed out an 8-1/2 x 11 page from their website and hung it on our community bulletin board so all of the residents can see it. And while I’m not a dumpster diver in any sense of the word (we have large plastic cans, not a dumpster, anyhow), if I’m taking out trash and see that someone has put a recyclable item in the regular trash, if possible, I will retrieve it and put it in the correct bin.
This “rant” became needed by me to release some of the emotions related to a neighboring state recently banning all plastic bags at grocery stores and even convenience stores. The press release said this:
“Starting May 4, 2022, New Jersey retail stores, grocery stores and food service businesses may not provide or
sell single-use plastic carryout bags and polystyrene foam food service products. Single-use paper carryout bags
are allowed to be provided or sold, except by grocery stores equal to or larger than 2500 square feet, which may
only provide or sell reusable carryout bags. After November 4, 2021, plastic straws may be provided only upon the
request of the customer.”
I’m old enough to remember before plastic bags came to the forefront of ways to carry things. I worked in the local grocery store through high school and college breaks, and brown paper bags were all we used to bag groceries. They were great because they were sturdier so the bottom row in the bag could carry all canned goods. And did they get recycled? How many of you remember making book covers from them after the first week of school to cover all of your subject books? I remember enjoying this task. Not only did the books look cleaner and more uniform, but each of us could decorate or doodle upon those plain brown covers! Now, you can barely find a brown paper bag, because enough loud voices and politicians were concerned about depleting our forests by turning lumber into paper. Now we’ve reached another environmental quagmire because we replaced paper bags with plastic ones.
Now, let me tell you quickly that I am not opposed to this ban in any way! I’ve been using my reusable bags for a while now (though, on occasion, I’ve used a plastic bag if I have eggs and bread to keep them separate and lessen the chance of them becoming mashed and/or broken).
However, of all of the plastic out there that is not recyclable, it’s my belief that plastic store bags are 95% treated with reuse. Yes, some people just throw them away once they are empty, but most of us save them for reuse. Taking your dog for a walk means you need to carry a plastic bag along to clean up after any solid ‘dumps’, and a grocery bag is perfect for that chore. What if you don’t have that plastic bag? Those with a conscience will find another source of disposable plastic to perform as an alternative, and that same non-recyclable plastic will end up in the trash.
If you’ve walked the produce or meat aisle of a grocery store, you’ve most likely seen the mounted rolls of plastic bags to place your produce inside and/or your meat (in case it is sticky/leaking). These are also non-recyclable and end up in the trash. Plus, all of that meat that is wrapped with a plastic wrap on a Styrofoam tray involves two different products that are non-recyclable! And speaking of trash, what do we put our trash into when it’s an item to be discarded? Did I hear someone say, “a plastic bag”?
Remember a few years ago when all of the talk was about plastic straws, which are not recyclable? The servers at the diner I visit monthly to have lunch with my bestie still immediately place a paper wrapped plastic straw on the table for every cold drink that is ordered – even if it’s just a glass of water! Now, some people prefer a straw, but wouldn’t it be better not only for the environment but for the business’s bottom line if they only provided them upon request?
Also several years ago, there was this big mention of the amount of Styrofoam cups at all of the convenience stores and other coffee shops that are primarily driven by drive-thru and to-go business (and yes, Styrofoam is recyclable but the practice is complicated and therefore not done in the majority of recycling centers across the country, and it’s supposedly not very profitable to recycle). So, all of these companies switched to cardboard cups, and we applauded them. However, the lids and the stirrers that are used for to-go coffee are made of non-recyclable plastics!
And while I’m going to rant, why is recycling still a voluntary act instead of a mandatory one? And why is recycling strongly encouraged only at the residential level and not for businesses? How many plastic drink bottles are tossed in the trash in a large company’s break room? How many large empty detergent bottles are tossed in the trash in a laundromat? Stop at a convenience store because your oil light came on, bought a quart of oil and poured it in your car? Where is that plastic can going to end up? Oh, and since the invention of disposable diapers, how many diapers, absorbent material wrapped in plastic, are put in the trash daily across the country???
All of this is why, while I applaud New Jersey’s stance on plastic shopping bags, I don’t believe that it’s going to have as big of an effect as we need in order to save our planet from the damage we are doing to it even if the entire country made it a rule. That piece of plastic is just a small part of the plastic that we use every day without thought of how discarding it will have an effect.
The next time you go to the grocery store, walk every aisle, even if you don’t need anything from that aisle. See how many products you find that are packaged in non-recyclable materials. Think about all of the breads and buns in their plastic bags. Think about all of the meats, some with Styrofoam trays, some not, but all in some kind of plastic. Think about all of those frozen veggies in plastic bags. Then look in the non-food aisles. Things like toilet paper and paper towels are wrapped in plastic. Laundry detergent and some cleaners do come in recyclable bottles, but the caps and/or sprayer nozzles are not recyclable. And even though some foods come in glass containers, which are recyclable, the lids are not. In other words, the amount of waste that goes to a landfill will always be much greater than the amount of products that end up in a recycling bin. And recycling those products is still voluntary, and not everyone bothers.
Again, I don’t want to belittle New Jersey for its state-wide ban of plastic shopping bags, and maybe it made the news in my area because of our proximity to the state line, but I’m not sure it deserves any great fanfare to signal its achievement.
But it burns my biscuits (thanks, Kristian!) that there is so much more to be done and that this attempt, while well-intentioned, is like the proverbial ‘drop in a bucket’ to what needs to be done. And that’s just on OUR side! Government needs to step in and help recycling centers and end users of recycled products make it profitable to sustain both in their efforts. I recently saw a headline that only 9% of the products that are recyclable end up being use, while the other 91% sit, in large quantities, wrapped up in wire hoping that someone will have a need.
Overall, there aren’t enough of us who care about the future of our planet to fight for recycling. I know that some people will recycle if it’s convenient, but not many go through the conscious effort to make a difference in how our waste is handled.
So, if you went out and planted a tree, or helped a group clean up an area where trash is thrown around, in honor of Earth Day, the planet thanks you. If you don’t avidly recycle, that thank you is rescinded.
Please, do what’s right, not just what’s convenient.