What to do with plastic once you start your zero waste journey.
I will be the first to admit that I will probably never get rid of plastic from my life altogether. My inner Frannie wants to go all in all at once and live in a tiny house out in the mountains and live off the land. However, before she starts to throw everything out and go join the hippies to start a zero waste revolution, let’s start with the most obvious problem. PLASTIC! What are the statistics on that? Why is it such a problem? What are companies doing to help with this problem? And before you go filling up the oceans with all of your unwanted plastic, think through how you can reuse or recycle what you currently have.
Why Plastic is Such a Problem
According to an article on Science Direct, Americans increased their bottled water intake from 29 gallons to 42 gallons in the ten year period between 2007 and 2017. That’s a nearly 50% increase! A study by the EPA states that only 8.4% of plastic is recycled each year. However, many local waste companies don’t recycle all plastics so just because you chunk all of your plastic trash into the recycle bin doesn’t mean it’s getting recycled. Every year, 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans. 80% of that comes from land-based plastic (plastic found in landfills, on the ground, and that can’t be recycled). So after checking with your local recycling center on what their rules are, what can you do with all that plastic?
Company Recycling Programs
While the first and most obvious way to deal with plastic waste is to refuse to accept it when you are out and about shopping, Frannie often gets in such a rush that she just grabs what she’s used to getting and then realizes her mistake when she starts seeing her husband throw it in the trash can! Plastic is in so much packaging but luckily some companies are starting to help reduce the plastic that goes into the landfill in the first place.
- TerraCycle – Working in the school system for almost 30 years, I have been a participant in many recycling programs. One that I was introduced to several years ago was TerraCycle. Founded in 2001, this company has many recycling programs that you can participate in. Some are local and others are send in. You can even earn points that you can donate to charity. This one is great for researching a lot of plastics not accepted in your local bins.
- Canon – We live in a world with electronics, but before you go buy the latest printer or camera, check with Canon’s recycle program. They take many electronics, cameras, and even those pesky tiny empty ink cartridges (now stop throwing those in the landfills!!)
- Kroger – Since 2018, Kroger has recycled 52.2 million pounds of plastic. In addition to the 1000 plastic bags I collected for my husband’s “lunch boxes”, you can recycle bread bags, plastic overwrap and even bubble wrap! Now I just need to remember to bring my big ball of bags to the store with me!
Reuse or Recycle
When I started becoming more aware of my surroundings, I was appalled at the amount of plastic in my environment. Even now, after 2 years of making small changes, plastic can be found in almost every cabinet in my kitchen. Tupperware, bread bags, MORE plastic grocery bags (they’re worse than rabbits!), medicine bottles, fruit and yogurt cups. Arguably, I am not going to be getting rid of all plastic any time soon (I have autistic kids). However, as I’ve made changes, I can to make conscious decisions about where I put it when I’m done.
First, think about how you can reuse it. When it comes to things like Tupperware and food storage containers, I plan on using them until they are unsuitable for food. Scratches and heating cause leaching, and even if they are BPA free, any plastic leaching is questionable in my opinion. So when they get scratches or a lid goes missing, I try to use it for storage of other household items like medicine, office supplies, toys, and bathroom organization. DVD and CD cases make great storage for colored pencils and markers for my kids as well.
Second, if you are really crafty, you can save your trash for an art piece. You can find plenty of inspiration on Pinterest for art and craft projects to do with the kids. Many artists have made huge statement pieces all over the world using recycled materials. Please feel free to go all Kenny Scharf on me and show off your recycled plastic art! (Unfortunately, Frannie, you don’t have time right now. You cannot save the broken plastic cup to make a tile stepping stone. It’s time for second breakfast with the kids who broke it. Ha!)
Finally, when all else fails, check with your local municipality about your recycling rules. Now if someone can help me train my husband to do this, we might be on our way to a waste free home! At least I have managed to reduce the amount of trash we have going to the landfill each week.
What do you do with the plastic you have in your house? Share in the comments your tips on reduce, reuse, recycle.