Plastics responsibility: Decline, Re-use, Recycle, Rubbish

As one who lives and works in the plastics publishing business, and has done so for a long time, I accept a heightened responsibility to use plastics well and dispose of them responsibly when the time comes. What follows is my perspective and what I consider to be my personal responsibility. My formula, from beginning to end, is as constructive as I know how to make it. Let it be clear. I am not an anti-plastics crackpot.

First choice: Decline  “Do you want a bag for that, sir?” “No, thanks.” In fairness, for example, to the OfficeMax near me, they just don’t offer a bag if it doesn’t seem necessary. I appreciate their approach. You can get a bag if you want one or think you need one.

But retailers’ approaches differ widely. Some retail stores have clerks trained to thrust a bag upon you without your having asked, even if you obviously do not need one. These folks can strike like lightning. By the time I get around to declining a bag, it’s too late, they have already struck. Frankly, I suspect some of this might have to do with some management concept of security. Nothing leaves the store, except in a bag. If it does, it is presumed stolen until proven otherwise. I should shop at classier stores, I suppose. There has to be a better way to deter shoplifting than force-feeding plastic bags.

A pet peeve of mine is that most of these bags, known as T-shirt bags in the industry for their shape, not their contents, have a penchant for getting stuck high in trees in my neighborhood, and flapping in the wind there for months on end. Outside of hiring a tree crew with one of those “cherry pickers” for hundreds of dollars, I know of no practical way to get these bags out of the trees. They are usually beyond climbing range.

Left to my own devices, I believe I could be done with the matter fairly easily with a few shots from a .410 shotgun with pheasant-load shells, or even with a .22 rifle shooting birdshot.  However, I can tell you that the City and County of Denver authorities would not be amused, notwithstanding that these are both such light artillery as to border on the trivial. I suspect that nail-guns used by construction crews might have equal or greater power.

Re-use 

As long as grown men spend time and money fiddling with their model train sets, I make no defense of my personal and professional interest in containers, caps and closures.

A lot of things that lend themselves to re-use are originally presented as some form of packaging. Buckets, bottles, and caps & closures are a specialty of mine. These “caps” are more commonly known outside the plastics industry as “lids” and come on multitudinous containers, especially food containers. Coins, colored paper clips, and all manner of trivial stuff that I accumulate can be sorted into salvaged caps and containers. Some of the caps I keep for their own sake, because they have such treasure troves of information in them e.g. sizes, company names, patent numbers, and material identification. The containers also serve as holders for pencils, pens, colored markers, small tools, and other small objects. I even create primitive basement-quality shelving out of scrap lumber, supported by a collection of elegantly shaped mixed-nuts plastics bottles. If I expire prematurely and someone has to clear out my collection of plastics they will no doubt be heard fuming about “this guy’s junk.” To me, those were interesting articles made of plastics.

Recycle

I live in Denver, Colorado, so I operate within the constraints of the recycling program here. The  “Denver Recycles” program has evolved over time. At first the program from accepted numbers 1 and 2 only but has expanded. “Denver Recycles” accepts rigid plastic jugs, jars, tubs cups, trays and containers with a number 1 through 7 inside the recycling symbol. The program’s official narrative detailing what it accepts is a little quirky, but so be it.

Examples of ACCEPTABLE plastics are soda, water, shampoo, and soap bottles; milk laundry detergent and cat litter jugs; yogurt, sour cream, cottage cheese, and butter tubs; peanut butter and mayonnaise jars; “to go” or “takeout” plastic drinking cups; plastic trays like those used for microwave dinners; clamshell containers like those used to package strawberries, blueberries, and bakery goods; and plastic containers like those used to package salad mixes.”

“Plastics NOT ACCEPTED include plastic bags, Styrofoam packages like cups and meat trays; shrink wrap; toys; plastic tubes; containers larger than 3 gallons; and containers marked as “PLA” compostable or made from plant-based materials.” The refusal to accept “compostable’ containers for recycling is one of the ironies of the business. You can’t have it both ways. If it is compostable, they won’t recycle it. If it is recyclable, they won’t compost it! Other nonplastics items (newsprint, etc.) are included but are outside the scope of our interest here.

Rubbish to landfills to usable land

A local Whole Foods outlet provides a self-sorting disposal bar in which to deposit trash before leaving the store. The categories are “Recycle, Compost” and “Landfill.” Am I the only one that feels somehow inferior when I discover that some of my trash items fit only in the “Landfill” category? I’m not going to belabor the point, but landfills are an important part of the formula for dealing with plastics trash. They may be a choice of last resort, but they are not inherently bad. Landfills can ultimately put through a restoration process. In one example, landfill material moved from Rikers Island was used to build up the land used to build La Guardia airport in New York City. I accept that opinions differ about the airport, but at least it represents a constructive use of landfill material.

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