May 28, 2018
by Tish Levee
Effective January 1st, China’s stopped accepting many recycled items, especially plastic. Until recently, first-world countries avoided the plastic problem by shipping our recycling to China, while plastic proliferated all over the planet.Ninety percent of all plastic ever created hasn’t been recycled, and largely ends up in the oceans.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, one of five huge waste patches in various oceans, mostly containing plastic, is now twice the size of Texas. Wind, wave action, and ultraviolet rays cause plastic to fragment into numerous smaller pieces—micro-plastics—which are ingested by sea life and, ultimately, by us, complete with the toxins that plastic accumulates.
The keynoter at the recent Zero Waste Symposium (see article elsewhere in the Gazette), Captain Charles Moore, first discovered this garbage patch in 1997, returning from a yacht race. As the founder and head of Algalita Marine Research Foundation in Long Beach, he’s been researching it ever since. The Patch is like a floating soup of particles, mostly plastic, up to 100 feet deep. In 2008, plastic particles there outweighed surface zooplankton six to one.It’s estimated that by 2050, there’ll be more plastic than fish in the oceans.
Largely traced to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, 12,000 micro-plastic particles/liter were recently discovered in Arctic ice. Meanwhile, theDeep-Sea Debris Database revealed a plastic bag 36,000 feet deep at the bottom of the Mariana Trench; 89% of the plastic in the database was single use.
Last month I wrote about this project, which hopes to cleanup up 50% of the Pacific Garbage Patch by 2023. Unfortunately, it only deals with surface plastic; micro-plastics sink to the oceans’s bottom. Still, it will make a huge difference. However, cleaning up the problem is not really the answer.
In Sonoma County we each create nearly five pounds of waste annually, consisting of paper, metal, glass, plastic, and organics. However, much that could be recycled or composted isn’t; much waste never makes it to the landfill, littering our roadways and beaches, ending up in our rivers and the ocean. Meanwhile, landfill space is even more critical than before the fires as the debris from them used up several years capacity.
While there’re annual river and beach clean-up parties and organizations and companies adopting sections of highway to clean-up, ultimately we need to reduce what we’re consuming. That’s the first “R” of Recycling.
• Don’t buy bottled water—its main ingredient is oil. In 2016, 480 billion plastic bottles were sold worldwide—a million bottles/minute. Less than half were collected for recycling; only 7% of those were turned into new bottles. Most ended up in landfill or in the ocean.
• Stop using plastic utensils such as cutlery, straws, and bottles. Approximately 40 billion plastic utensils are used annually in the US—most are thrown away, not recycled.
• Join Sip It Sonoma’s campaign asking restaurants to give out straws only if requested.
• Support bans on other non-recyclables.
China is rejecting our recycling due to contamination. Food residue and plastic bags can contaminate a whole bale (or more) of recycled material. When that happens, it’s shipped back to its point of origin and ends up in landfill.
Recology, the new waste hauler for most of the county, is working diligently to educate customers about how to recycle cleanly and correctly. Important information you might not know:
• Do NOT place any plastic bags in your recycling or green waste. If you use them to collect these materials, empty them into the collection barrels. Otherwise, they’ll contaminate the whole barrel.
• Clean food out of containers before recycling to avoid contamination.
• Make sure your recycling only contains recyclables—no take-out cups, polystyrene or styrofoam, packaging peanuts, or items marked with the recycling triangle that aren’t really recyclable. (That triangle doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Contact your local hauler to find out which numbers in the triangle can actually be recycled locally.)
• “When in doubt, throw it out!” Don’t be a “wishful recycler.”
© Tish Levee, 2018
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