Our Relationship with Plastic

What day is your trash pick-up day? Mine is on Monday. Each week, it’s a clear visual of how much or how little waste (trash or recyclables) is accumulated. Growing up, it used to feel so satisfying to recycle. Now, it feels more important to bring less to the curb and find ways to reuse instead. Recycling is still beneficial but there’s more to it than meets the eye—not everything should be tossed in the bin without a thought. Are there products that we can buy in bulk with a reusable container, things we can make ourselves or items we can do without altogether? If you challenge yourself, a little determination can go a long way in reducing what goes out on the curb every week.

Recently while browsing Facebook, I came across a short video entitled “Stop Recycling.” It caught my attention and I clicked to view it. It mentioned how our use of plastic in this country is off the charts. How our waste is saturating the oceans and that items we think are being recycled are ending up in landfills. Waste is only recycled if there is a market for it. If not, it goes into a landfill. While this was something I was aware of, it was when I traveled to Mexico that it really hit home for me. Plastic was everywhere. It covered the utensils at restaurants. The scent of burning plastics filled the streets at night.   

One day, in Rio Lagartos, we drove down a beautiful sandy road. On one side was the Gulf of Mexico, on the other was a biosphere, home to hundreds of species of birds. It was hard to know where to look as each side was so beautiful. We saw a little path that led to a quiet beach. We got out of the car to check it out. As we walked up the path, there was a sign that told us to be mindful of any trash we accumulated.  On the same sign it alerted us that turtles migrated to this beach to lay eggs. When we got to the end of the short path, it opened up into a beautiful panoramic view of the ocean. On the beach, it wasn’t turtles we saw but trash...everywhere. I mean everywhere. At first I thought someone’s trash bag somehow opened up onto the beach. But then it became clear that it was washing up onto the beach from the ocean. Flip flops, plastic bottles, caps, pieces of plastic bags. It covered the sandy white beach. I collected what I could but it was just a band-aid on the problem. Over time, it was going to come right back, overtaking the beaches and any sign of my clean up effort would be long gone. Picking up the trash was helpful but it’s not a solution to the problem. 

We have a problem with plastic.

We can no longer have peace of mind when we throw something into the recycling bin. Changing the way you shop is a more productive way to achieve peace of mind and make a greater impact on the plastic problem.  Reconsider your habits to decrease your dependence on plastic.  

BUY LESS PLASTIC. Do you really need that plastic-packaged product you’re about to buy? Is there a metal or glass alternative?

SHOP BULK! Rather than buy plastic-packaged products, see if that same item is available in our Bulk Department and bring your own containers from home!

BE IN THE KNOW. Check with your transfer station or recycling company to see where your recycling goes.

KNOW WHAT’S RECYCLABLE. Not all plastics are recyclable.  Paper coffee cups often have a waterproof lining that makes them un-recyclable.

WASH IT OUT. If you do put plastic in the recycling, be sure to clean it out well! Plastic that isn’t clean won’t get recycled.

EXPECT DIFFERENT. Recycled plastic doesn’t feel as sturdy or look as shiny as new plastic. While it’s great to buy products made from recycled plastic, be prepared to adjust your expectations.

There are lots of products available at the Co-op that can help set you up for a reduced-waste lifestyle: Reusable shopping bags, Mothering Mother bags for bulk and produce purchases, Kleen Kanteen bottles and BPA free containers are perfect for hot bar and salad bar purchases. When you have a system in place, it feels good. It feels even better when trash day comes around and you see how much less you’re carrying to the curb.

As we head into spring, take a moment to think about your relationship with the environment and the active part you can play in making things better. Take the recycling bin challenge!  Can you create less waste than you did last week? 3, 2, 1...go!