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Recycling Regrets – Was It All an Advertising Program?

By Mary Lou Harris May 02, 2022 Lifestyle

How gullible can this consumer be? I’ve been hearing and seeing bits and pieces of reports recently that recycling of plastics really has not been, nor was intended to be, fully implemented. And further, that the industry knew it would be infeasible but advertised us into believing.

This recent article from National Public Radio left me disappointed and feeling like I have been duped. How many times have I squinted at that triangle on the bottom of plastic packaging? Is that a #4 or a #5? Does it go in the recycling or the main trash stream?

Were We Duped with Recycling?

Turns out, it may not matter. While over the last 30 years or so, I was removing labels from pill bottles, carefully rinsing out plastic containers, teaching my children the importance of placing items in the correct waste receptacle, were they really all headed for the landfill anyway?

According to this article, we hopeful consumers, wanted to believe we could buy as much plastic as we wanted because it could all be recycled. All the feel good advertising was quite believable.

When the industry began their advertising campaign promoting the benefits of plastic, we (or at least I) hopefully went along without question. While promoting those benefits, the article says:

“At the same time, the industry launched a number of feel-good projects, telling the public to recycle plastic. It funded sorting machines, recycling centers, nonprofits, even expensive benches outside grocery stores made out of plastic bags.”

Few of those feel-good projects “actually turned much plastic into new things.”

So many of us bought into what seems now part-myth, while the industry knew that recycling plastic would never be as economical, or as enriching financially, since new oil is cheaper and easier to use.

One of the first things that came to mind as I read that article and other sources is memories of the advertising campaigns of cigarette manufacturers telling us there was no harm in smoking. While we may have had our suspicions, we really wanted to believe it.

Now, these years later, in a similar way I am feeling really gullible. If I was taken in, then it is my responsibility to break the habits I was lulled into.

How to Change Habitual Use

I don’t have a specific answer to the question of how to break away from the use of plastics, but I have some ideas and will be exploring them.

My first plan of action is to call our waste hauler and find out how much of our recycling leaves their facility for reuse and how much goes to the landfill. Depending on the answers, this is likely to take some work.

Where to Begin?

Determine what products I buy most frequently.

The main culprits: I love yogurt and a number of plastic containers find their way to my recycling box each week. Second, a prescription bottle or two and of course, various vitamin bottles. A close third would be paper milk and cream containers with a plastic coating,

Next Steps

Explore the alternatives to purchasing those products in packaging other than plastic.

For yogurt containers and vitamin and prescription bottles, this will take a bit of research so I will be doing some digging. My grocery does offer milk from a dairy that is in returnable glass bottles, so that is a strong possibility.

The fortunate thing is that outdoor farmer’s markets are opening soon, and there may be other food storage options I haven’t explored.

Finally, Time and Inconvenience

How much of both – and I might also need to add skill – am I willing and able to expend?

The research I don’t mind. That is a challenge that I enjoy. I think the replacement for the plastic yogurt and similar containers may be a bit trickier. I do have a friend whose family made their own yogurt as she grew up. I’m told it isn’t difficult and actually quite economical.

On the other hand, I’m one of those people who flunked out of the sourdough bread starter thing during the darkest days of the pandemic, so I may not be making my own yogurt. We’ll see.

So, there is a plan from this disgruntled and disappointed plastics recycler.

What are your thoughts on the current state of plastics recycling? Do you have alternatives to suggest?

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The Author

Mary Lou Harris is a proponent of active living, community volunteerism and inquisitive travel. After a post age 60 retirement from a career in public service, she expanded those interests to include ultra-trail running, hiking and extended-stay travel. She can be contacted through her website https://stillarunner.com or on Twitter at @stillarunner.

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