The Three Rs

When I was growing up, the “Three Rs” were known as: reading, (w)riting and (a)rithmetic. These were considered the ‘important’ things we needed to learn in our schooling. Obviously, two of the three of them have been antiquated by technology, and I suspect that, at some time in the not-so-far future, reading won’t be necessary since everything will be converted to audio (like is already done with books).

These days, we still use the phrase the “Three Rs” but now they mean: reuse, repurpose, recycle. Actually, there is an even newer meaning to the acronym – it’s now reduce, reuse, recycle.

I have long been an avid recycler. I have not let the articles about how less than 50% of the recyclable items we place out for that purpose actually get recycled dissuade me. I have used reusable bags for my grocery shopping for many years; in fact, I had to buy additional bags because I gave some of mine away to my brother to use since he has a lot of steps involved in getting his groceries inside! I often grab one or two of those bags if I’m going into a place other than the grocery store, like a big box store or a thrift store.

About a month ago, I caught part of a news clip about how the state of New Jersey (which borders PA, where I live) was banning the use of plastic bags in stores. Customers had to either bring their own shopping bags or pay a nominal amount for paper bags. In theory, I fully support this idea. However, I’m old enough to remember a time when everyone used paper bags (without paying for them) and plastic bags were invented to replace paper as they were much more economical and saved in the cutting down of trees.

I also saw a headline about California getting on the bandwagon to reduce plastic usage. And I’m all for anything we can do.

And yet, there was a big noise made about single-use plastic straws; just days ago, I was voluntarily presented with a plastic straw in a paper wrapper with the glass of water I ordered. It ended up becoming waste, just as it would have if I had used it, even though it sat unopened on the table the entire time it was there. If I had been asked if I wanted a straw, I would have said “no” and saved the earth – and the restaurant – the result of using one.

After the ban on plastic bags in New Jersey, I asked someone who lives there how they will clean up after their dog while on walks. Instead of ‘reusing’ a store plastic bag to pick up the solids to be disposed in the trash, this person bought the most inexpensive box of plastic zipper bags that could be found and will now use them. So, my question becomes, “If all we are doing is replacing one kind of plastic bag with another that still ends up as plastic waste, what are we accomplishing?”

Bear with me on this… What are our trash bags made of? What is the wrap we put over food made of? What are wrappers for bags of bread, muffins, etc. made of? What are the bags available in the produce aisle for putting our produce into made of? What is the film over so many frozen items in trays made of? What is the film that covers the meat on styrofoam trays in the meat section made of? What wraps up most of the pre-packaged lunchmeats and cheeses available to purchase? What do things like cooking oils and peanut butter come in? What is the band that holds together that 6-or 8-pack of soda bottles made of?

And that is why I can only say that, in theory, banning plastic shopping bags is a good idea. But honestly, to me it feels like using your toothbrush and toothpaste to brush the top 4 center teeth in your mouth while not cleaning the remaining teeth.

I know there are mesh-type bags that can be purchased to be used for when you purchase produce. Use, wash, reuse. But we as a society are all about convenience. That’s why disposable diapers were invented. That’s why we use paper towels and paper napkins. We are still making tons and tons of trash that ends up in landfills because we want the fastest way to get something done, and wipe and toss sure beats wipe and wash, dry, fold, put away to reuse.

As I said, I am doing everything I can to recycle – approved glass, plastic, aluminum, paper and cardboard, etc. But to be honest, I’m quick to grab a paper towel to wipe up a small mess rather than dirty a cloth. And I’m not really sure I’m ready to go back to those days long ago where both women and men used cloth hankies, washed, dried, ironed and the reused. And trust me, I use up, on average, three to four boxes of tissues a month (I do break down the sides of the empty box, remove the plastic around the opening, and put the box in recycling. Oh, but there is more plastic I’m throwing into the trash, darnit!).

I applaud New Jersey for its efforts – after all, you need to start somewhere. But if our government wants to make it easy on the consumers, why not provide a certain number of reusable bags, based on the size of the family per the recent census, complimentary? Then, if persons don’t choose to use them – or forget them – or whatever other excuse that can be made – the onus is on that consumer. I believe the law in New Jersey states that people can bring their own reusable bags or pay a nominal fee for paper bags. (I’ve already been to a grocery store that charges 3 cents for each plastic bag used if you didn’t bring your own with you.)

Let’s face it – the fastest way to get someone to change is to make them financially responsible if they choose not to! So that should be in the beginning of this desire for overall change. And then, at least in my opinion, government should be willing to work on finding ways to make wrappings of plastic somehow biodegradable (some smaller companies already do) so that whatever does end up in the trash eventually dissolves. We also need to make it mandatory nationwide that all residential buildings must recycle. We need to find out why less than 50% of the materials set out to be recycled actually become recycled. We need to make it cost effective to companies – and to consumers – to use recycled products, maybe even save them a penny or two for choosing recycled materials.

So, while I appreciate the start on this issue being made by New Jersey and talked about in California, unless the federal government gets involved, there is not going to be a major impact on the problem.

Maybe the Supreme Court should be looking at how this problem has a negative effect on many, MANY lives and quit trying to allegedly save one!

And that is all I’m going to say about that!

We need to do MORE of this!