submitted by Jeanne Bray
I have always loved to recycle and, with the single stream and expanded recycling we have in Lower Makefield now, I can indulge my love of recycling more than ever.
I was particularly proud the first time our recycling bin was full and our trash bin contained only one small, grocery store sized bag (we compost so we have very little food that goes into the trash can.) What could be better than recycling a bin full of stuff?
Then my daughter, who has worked in the alternative energy field her entire career, reminded me of the downside of recycling. Certainly it is better to recycle something than throw it in the trash; however, what is far and away a better alternative is to reduce consumption so that there is less in both bins.
Take plastic bags as an example; some 300 billion plastic bags are used in the US alone every year and only about 5.2% are recycled.
That means that 95% of these bags, many used only once to carry a small item home from the store, end up in landfills for hundreds of years, or streams and rivers, where they never fully degrade, but do kill marine animals and pollute the water, or on the side of the road.
However, if every one of those plastic bags was recycled, that would create a different set of problems, such as the intensive use of non-renewable resources used to make them into something else, and the fact that the US market for recycled plastic bags is limited, so many are wastefully shipped to overseas processing facilities. And even financially, it doesn’t always make sense. It costs $4,000 to process and recycle a ton of plastic bags, which can then be sold on the commodities market for $32.
When the economy tanked in 2008, many plastic processors went out of business, leaving a worldwide glut of this material.
So, if we absolutely must take a plastic bag, the best thing to do is to reuse or recycle it, but how much better would it be if we didn’t take a plastic bag every time we go to the grocery store or the department store or the drug store? It is easy and convenient to have the cashier put that tube of toothpaste or bag of candy or magazine in a bag but is it really necessary? Perhaps you could just carry that item if you are going right to the car, or stick it in your purse or your pocket, or make sure you have a reusable bag every time you go to any store.
And, of course, the grocery store is where you see carts full of plastic bags, and/or plastic bags inside paper bags and/or two plastic bags together to add strength.
Rather than wasting all those bags, why not just have a supply of the attractive, strong, reusable bags that are so available now, many for only $1 and many that are folded up so they can be tucked in your pocket or your purse.
Letting the cashier put our items in bags is just how we have done things, and at times it’s necessary, but I have found that since my daughter raised my awareness, I almost never need a plastic bag, and, when I do take one, it is not out of habit, but only because I have made a conscious decision to do so.