The Problem with Plastics

From The Media Recycles Team

“We don’t need a handful of people doing Zero Waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” –Anne-Marie Bonneau, Zero Waste Chef

Recycling is an essential part of Zero Waste.  Media residents are great recyclers—we are conscientious and thorough.  We rinse our containers before putting them in the green bin.  We keep discovering new items that are recyclable.  Our annual recycling tonnage numbers remain steady IN SPITE of the fact that we get more and more of our news online and recycle fewer and fewer newspapers.  We take pride in our increasing ratio of recycling to trash.

Recycling Bins
Find out more on how to recycle in Media by following this link.  

Recycling does not solve all our waste problems though.  When the Media Recycles Team talks about Zero Waste we keep coming back to the problem with plastics.

Single Use Plastics (SUPS) 

They are light, they are flexible.  They are sturdy.  They are cheap.  Plastic packaging cuts down on the weight of every product that is moved and hence also the cost, energy use and pollution related to transportation.

But the truth is, most plastics cannot be recycled, and, for those that can be, — #1 and #2 — recycling is rarely cost effective, and they cannot usually be recycled more than once.  

And the truth also is, these petroleum products do not break down in nature.  They do not compost into soil.  They practically live forever in landfills.  When they deteriorate, they break up into smaller and smaller micro particles that litter our soil, our oceans, our riverbeds and fill the fish we eat.  Plastic, once created, does not go away.  Unless it is incinerated.  Then it produces harmful emissions.  

How did we start thinking plastics are recyclable?  Planet Money recently did a podcast tracing the history of this idea—available for listening or reading at 

But these facts about plastics do not seem to have the effect of reducing their manufacture.  They are produced in ever-increasing numbers, and plastic pollution is growing into an ever-greater global problem.

The solution to plastic pollution is … (I am sorry to say—plastic is so very convenient) … avoidance.  

What can we use instead?  Look for glass, aluminum, ceramic, paper, and wood solutions.  Don’t feel guilty for using plastic where you have to (we don’t yet live in a world where we can avoid it completely), but get creative where you can. Plates instead of plastic wrap to cover bowls.  Mason jars instead of plastic storage containers.  Cloth food bags for buying fruits and veggies.  Reusable grocery bags.

Do you have a favorite recycling or Zero Waste practice or tip?  Send it on and it may be featured in an upcoming column.  Email

To find out more do an internet search for “what to do about plastic pollution?” and see how many organizations offer ways to join with others to act on your concerns.  Hundreds of Zero Waste bloggers post hints and helps.  Pick your favorites.