Monday, July 19, 2010

Plastics: Complicating recycling

Posted By on Mon, Jul 19, 2010 at 12:04 PM

One way to curb our addition to oil — and we do have one — is to reduce the amount of plastic we use. That's easier said that done, as you well know, since practically everything you buy comes wrapped in plastic, is made of plastic, has plastic parts and is then nestled into a plastic bag.

More, not all plastics are created equal, as a recent article on MSNBC.com points out. For example, some plastics are more likely to be recycled — like plastic numbers one and two. This isn't because the other plastics aren't recyclable, it's because a lot of municipalities aren't equip to recycle all of the different types of plastics out there. (Fortunately, thanks to the new Recycle It! program in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, we can now recycle all plastics but number six. There are seven grades total.)

Recycling is a good option, but we also have to create demand for recycled products. No one put that charge on display like the World Cup soccer tournament in South Africa. As you probably know, players wore jerseys made out of recycled plastic bottles. And, as far as I can tell, there were no complaints from the players or the fans.

The seats in my car are actually covered with recycled plastic fabric, and I've got to tell you — they're great. The dealer tried to get me to buy leather seats, in fact they came with the car. While I'm sure they, too, are quite nice, I understand I vote with my dollars, so I chose recycled plastic instead — and I'm glad I did.

Another way to vote with your dollars is to, whenever possible, only buy plastics that can be recycled in our area. Also, buy products that don't include plastic and leave the plastic bags in the store whenever you can.

Here's something else I do: When I'm at the grocery store, I don't get plastic bags for produce. Instead, I take a re-usable shopping bag with me and put all of the produce I want into that bag. At the check out, the clerk simply weighs the produce separately and puts them back into the reusable bag.

Which brings me to another point: Reuse, reuse, reuse. We don't buy plastic containers in my house because we reuse the ones we get from the store -- like the ones sour cream comes in -- until they're worn out, then we recycle them. This helps reduce the amount of waste our house sends to landfills, which is a whole other problem, as well as how much money we're spending on plastic.

Being "green" doesn't necessarily mean spending money, but it does help if you use your noggin'. By not buying things, you are also voting — you're lessening the demand for products we really don't need or want. Not buying things is free. And, bonus: Some stores will actually pay you to bring your own bag. Sure, it's only a few cents per bag, but as Benjamin Franklin famously said, "A penny saved is a penny earned."

MSNBC.com has a really cool interactive feature about paper v. plastic at the grocery store. When you take production, required resources, transportation, usage, recycle-ability and landfill space into account — which is really better? Find out for yourself here.

Of course, the best answer is to take a reusable bag with you to the store — all stores, not just the grocery store. As good as my intentions are, though, this has been a challenge. I'll have a pile of reusable bags in my trunk and still forget about them until I get to the cash register.

At least that was the case until I found reusable bags that fold up nicely, have their own little storage baggie and fit in my small purse. In fact, I carry around two. Now I'm never without a bag when I'm shopping. And, on those rare occasions when I manage to forget even those bags, I'll forgo a bag altogether if possible. The bonus there is two fold: I don't end up carrying around a bag with some store's advertising on it and I don't have to find a place to store the bag until I find a way to reuse, repurpose or recycle it.

Again, free and simple choices also reduce demand and, thereby, reduce our dependency on foreign oil. Don't think your decisions will really make a difference? Check out the impact calculator at the end of that interactive site. Here's the link again.

The truth is your decisions do make a difference. And, together our decisions make a huge impact.

More about recycled fabrics:

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