The Plastic Free July campaign is a worldwide initiative to raise awareness of our growing plastic waste problem. Millions of people as individuals, schools, communities and companies from 177 countries take part in the challenge each year. The goal is to reduce plastic waste.
Join our Contest
During the Month of July, tell us what you are doing to reduce plastic waste and your favorite idea on solutions to the problem by sending an email to email@example.com. Deadline for submissions is July 31, 2020. Winners will be selected by the Homer Glen Environment Committee based on innovation and effectiveness.
Why the Concern Over Plastic?
Plastic is durable, cheap, easy to mold and long lasting, with beneficial uses. On the other hand, it can be a curse. It creates an extremely long lasting and durable waste stream, overloads landfills, clogs sewers and waterways, chokes wildlife, and litters roadways. While some plastics can be used and recycled wisely, the majority of those produced are neither.
Some startling facts:
- US plastic recycling rates stand at an abysmal 8% 1, (down from 9%)
- Over a million plastic bottles are produced every minute worldwide.
- Over a trillion plastic bags are produced every year worldwide.
- There’s been explosive growth of new plastic production in the last 20 years.
- A beverage bottle may take 450 years to degrade
- 40% of plastic produced is packaging used just once and then discarded.
Demand for Recycled Plastic is Weak
Many products (like films and expanded polystyrene foam) are difficult or impossible to recycle. For decades China had been importing much of the world’s plastic scrap. The recycling industry underwent a seismic shift in 2018 when China stopped accepting most plastics.
The result: more plastic in landfills, more plastic pollution
Weak demand means even some of the more recyclable plastic materials can have an unfavorable cost benefit which favors a manufacturer’s choice to use virgin plastics. That can mean more recycled plastic scrap headed for the landfill, or burning (where it becomes an air pollution problem) or illegal dumping. Approximately 22 million pounds of plastic found its way into the Great Lakes last year.
Human Health Can Also Be a Concern
Plastic photo degrades into ever smaller pieces. These microplastics can be ingested from the water we drink or the air we breathe with unknown health consequences. These smaller bits of plastic are also consumed by fish and birds who mistake it for food, disrupting ecosystems and bioconcentrating for species higher up on the food chain, including humans.
It All Adds Up to Needed Change
On average for every 10 plastic things you try to recycle, only one will actually get recycled. We need to use our creativity to figure out how to generate less waste. One solution is to switch to materials that are biodegradable or more recyclable: aluminum, metal, cardboard, paper and glass containers, and that are less dangerous to animal and marine life.
A Big Problem: “Aspirational” Recycling
Many Americans tend to be “aspirational” about their recycling. They toss items into the recycling bin hoping they will be recycled, because it makes them feel less guilty about throwing it away. The long list of items that aren’t recyclable keep showing up at the local recycling plant, including: soy-sauce packets, greasy pizza boxes, candy-bar wrappers, dry-cleaner bags, plastic wrap, the lids of to-go coffee cups and plastic take-out containers.
Long story short, Americans are not very good at recycling. About 25% of what ends up in the recycling bin is contaminated, according to the National Waste & Recycling Association. For decades, we have been throwing out just about whatever we wanted (wire hangers, juice pouches, Styrofoam, plastic food trays, plastic wrap, prescription bottles, plastic shopping bags, etc.) into the bin and sending it to China, where low-paid workers sorted through it and cleaned it up. Since 2018, that’s no longer an option. China stopped taking contaminated plastic waste, and it’s too expensive to do more than a quick cursory sort here in the USA.
When in doubt, throw it out
Hoping something is recyclable, when it isn’t, contaminates recycle streams. With such a small amount of plastic actually getting recycled, it’s important to keep the recycling stream clean and uncontaminated. Non-recyclables, like plastic bags, can gum up the works. Workers end up having to stop fast moving conveyor belts to pry plastic bags from clogged up gears. The official list from Homewood Disposal shows what is and isn’t recyclable at this time. Do a quick cleaning of materials to be recycled, make sure bottles and cans are empty, and recycle plastic containers with their lids on. Let’s keep it clean!
It’s Still Important to Recycle
Even though a lot of plastic doesn’t get recycled, it’s still important that you do recycle. Only 8% is likely to be recycled this year, but that is still billions of pounds. We all need to understand that we cannot recycle our way out of this mess. We must cut back on plastic usage. Watch the recent PBS Frontline documentary Plastic Wars to educate yourself on the cause and scale of the problem.
Alternatives to Plastic
Here’s a link to Plastic Free July for ideas on alternatives to reduce plastic usage. Please join our Plastic Free July campaign and refuse and reduce plastic usage. Our handy and printable plastic waste tipsheet can be printed for future reference.