Shirley Frerik: Just say NO to single-use plastics
Plastic has changed our lives for the better in many ways – but its over-consumption within our “throwaway” society has come to haunt us. Single-use plastics have made mountains of trash and fouled our streams and oceans, killing many of their inhabitants. And, micro plastics are entering the food chain, threatening human health. Another serious issue is that, as a petroleum by-product, both the production and disposal of plastics emit methane and other greenhouse gases – the main culprits in global warming. The cumulative result is that we urgently need to deal with our wasteful plastics consumption. Our previous practice of sending our plastic trash off to Asia – Out of Sight, Out of Mind – is now banned by the Basel Treaty; no country can send its trash to any other country.
We CAN design waste and pollution out of the system with a “circular economy” approach, which is the wave of the future. Products are designed to keep all the molecules of usable materials in circulation by remaking them into new products, finding new uses, and keeping them out of the landfill. Single-use plastic products can be a resource for other products if they are designed to be recycled rather than discarded.
Governor Newsom has just signed a landmark package of five bills to support a circular economy in California, eliminate green washing, and break free from disposable plastics. These bills cover “truth in labeling”: They measure how much plastic actually gets recycled, allow easier re-use of glass bottles, require products labeled compostable to actually break down and not leave harmful chemicals in California’s compost stream, and reduce plastic food-ware waste by giving it only to takeout customers who request it. These measures go into effect in January 2022.
The CALRecycle Commission on Recycling is looking at all aspects of the recycling crisis to develop solutions. Extended Producers Responsibility bills are already being passed at both State and Federal levels, requiring producers to find new, alternative materials to plastics, particularly single-use plastics like the one million plastic bottles of water sold every minute on our planet – bottles we buy, use once, and throw away.
In parallel, the Town of Truckee staff is establishing a working group to develop a single-use food-ware reduction ordinance and implementation plan (e.g., plastic utensils, cups, straws). This is in response to community members, student groups, and Town Council asking for policies to reduce the amount of such items being disposed of in Truckee. Applications to serve on this working group are being accepted through Nov. 5 and the application form is available on Town of Truckee’s home page at townoftruckee.com
We consumers have a role in this, and it is not hard. It just takes each of us thinking about our consumption up front – about how we choose to spend our money and what we choose to consume. Often, we can just say “NO” to single-use plastic and find alternatives. And, if we love a product that comes in a non- recyclable #5 container (think yogurt), we can write the manufacturer to ask for a change. It can be a family research project to look for alternative ways to stop using single-use plastic.
There is no need to throw away plastic bags; they can be deposited in the designated recycle boxes at Safeway. Plastic bottles that have the CRV logo and refund value can be taken to Eastern Sierra Landfill off Cabin Creek Road for redemption. Seventh Generation and TruEarth are offering products with almost plastic-free packaging. And, new alternative-packaging products are coming, such as the fully recyclable paper bottle Coca-Cola is piloting. We can go on line to search for and identify other ideas on what we can do as well.
All of us accepting responsibility — you, me and the producers of these plastics — are the keys to changing this pollution predicament. Let’s step up to the challenge and join the burgeoning citizen-led campaign to do our part to reduce consumption of single-use plastics. By taking this on we will help clean up our oceans and waterways, and keep micro plastics out of our foods. Reducing our use of plastics also helps slow global warming, which can attenuate the wildfire threat we all face here in the Tahoe region. If we do our part and give our planet Earth time and space to renew itself, it will. Our grandchildren and future generations will thank us!
Shirley Freriks lives in Grass Valley and is leader of the Waste NOT!! Sub-committee of Nevada County-Climate Action Now. Sue and John Sorensen are climate activists with Citizens Climate Lobby and Elders Climate Action, and live in Truckee
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