Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Chasing Arrows-Chasing the Truth

I can't tell you how many conversations this past week have started with someone saying something to me like, "I was feeling so guilty today when ______ (fill in the blank here) and I realized how much plastic I was using". I want to reassure you that I am in no way judging you (I mean, just take a look at our pile of plastics in the first posting), but these kinds of conversations give me a little thrill because it means that folks are thinking about it more. That's the first step to change and that's pretty cool.

We've all learned the three "R's" right? Reduce, re-use and finally recycle. I think in the past I've tended to jump straight to the third "R" without thinking too much about it. But I've learned some interesting things about plastic recycling in the past few weeks that I thought you would like to know about (maybe).

Let's start with the basics. Plastic is a petroleum based product. Yes, that's petroleum the same non-renewable resource that countries get into wars over. According to an article published by Scientific American, "about 4 percent of world oil production is used as a feedstock to make plastics, and a similar amount is consumed as energy in the process." So essentially 8% of the world's annual oil use is going into making plastics, and that amount is increasing every year.

So maybe you're thinking, "well if everyone was better about recycling their plastic, maybe we wouldn't have to keep making so much!" Sadly that is not the case. Even though your plastic containers have the recycling symbol of three arrows going round and round, your plastic yogurt container will never end up as another yogurt container. All of that plastic that you are so diligent about recycling goes into making secondary plastic products like carpet, textiles, jacket fill, plastic lumber and industrial plastic strapping. And these things are not recyclable themselves, (so maybe they should straighten out those three arrows into a line that ends up pointing at the landfill or ocean). To learn more about common misconceptions about plastic and plastic recycling check out this article by the Plastics Task Force.

Are you surprised and maybe even shocked? I was too. But that being said I am NOT saying don't recycle. A longer line to the landfill is better than no line at all. For those of you who live in Bellingham we have a great resource in the Sanitary Service Company that collects our recyclables. Find out here the ins and outs of what they will take. For those of you who live in other cities I recommend checking out your local recycling service's policies and if they don't recycle all plastics maybe knowing what they will take will have an impact on what you purchase.

If you are feeling a little down after reading this posting check out this link to The Plastiki Expedition to learn about an inspiring plastic recycling project. I find it very hopeful that there are such creative people out there thinking about better ways to do things. Maybe you're one of them.


  1. There is now a company in WA that helps us recycle styrofoam. It's near IKEA in Renton and takes all sorts of styrofoam as long as it's clean.


  2. The UPS Store will take your styrofoam peanuts. Some will take the corn starch ones, too.

  3. Thought of your project when I saw this.

  4. Here's a great article about a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala that stuffed plastic bags into plastic bottles to make the foundation of some walls for a school!

    I love what you are doing! Keep it up!