A Zero Waste Year in Review

“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

The Media Zero Waste column began last May, as the Media Recycles Team underwent a re-think on how to make recycling in Media Borough work even better.  As we are always mentioning here, Media is a great recycling town with impressive levels of resident participation.  But we were disturbed by reports from other towns and news articles:  markets for recycled materials were drying up; local haulers could not sell, give away or even pay to dispose of—their bales.  Then we heard more and more coverage about how plastics were not actually very recyclable—that the number + triangle system dating back to the 1990s was really a feel-good marketing ploy underwritten by the American Chemistry Council on behalf of a powerful plastics industry.

How to Recycle in Media: For more information on Media Recycling (what, when and how to recycle) Click Here

As we researched, we found that in fact, Media’s contracted recycling hauler, J.P. Mascaro, was doing quite well, thanks to the fact that their recycling facility in Birdsboro, Total Recycle, is new (2015) and is equipped with state-of-the-art equipment that is able to produce a clean and highly marketable product.  

But we also learned some interesting facts about plastics:

  • half of all plastics ever made were produced in the past 13 years 
  • overall, less than 10% of plastics actually are recycled (in spite of the triangle numbers);  
  • 79% of all plastics end their terms of use in landfills, incinerators, as litter, clogging our water systems and oceans, or ground down into micro particles that end up in our soil, in our water, in the plants, animals and fish we consume and, eventually, in us.

We read that many state governments (including our own) favor the plastics industry, passing bills that subsidize or facilitate it.  Yet while our tax dollars pay for this support, plastic manufacturers bear no responsibility for the end life of the products they make.  Citizens—local government–alone are left to pay for the cleanup of our appalling levels of plastic pollution. 

We came to realize that the answer to plastics pollution is not recycling but reduction of use.  This column looked at how individuals can make choices to reduce their use of single-use-plastics (SUPs).  We attempted to do this without avoiding the elephant in the room—that the real responsibility for getting a handle on out-of-control plastics pollution lies with manufacturers taking responsibility for the real cost of the plastic products they create, and with government regulation of the plastic industry.

So at the close of a crazy year, we look forward to what is to come.  The Media Recycles Team recently discovered a new report called, The Zero Waste Master Plan:  A Guide to Building Just and Resilient Zero Waste Cities, written by experts in zero waste planning and published by GAIA (Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives).  We will be reading through it in 2021 and invite Media residents to take a look. Let us know what you think (email the Media Borough Recycling Coordinator).

“Zero Waste” is not an impossible goal, but a feasible direction.  It is more a more accurate term than “recycling,” because it considers the whole waste management system, rather than just a segment of it.  Our current residential recycling in Media removes 22% (tonnage) of our waste from the trash stream.   Our yard waste program takes out  another 9%.  When our Compost Program goes borough-wide in July 2021, we will have the opportunity to divert another 10% of our waste.  While very few of us will ever be able to brag (like the Zero Wasters on YouTube) that we can fit our annual trash into a Mason jar, many of us will see our weekly trash reduce to a small bag each week.  And that, truly, will be a Zero Waste accomplishment.