Rethinking plastic: Specialists give advice on ways to cutback on use

July 2018 Posted in Other, People, Technology, Your Health

By Melissa Wagoner

As an archeologist for the State of Oregon, Nancy Nelson has spent a lot of time studying what past generations have left behind, the layer of discarded objects – bones, pottery, leather and metal – that tell the story of that era. What has recently become a growing concern to her is the story currently being created.

“Our generation is going to have an archeological stratum that doesn’t break down,” she said. The reason: plastic.

“Plastics have kind of gone along with being lazy,” she stated but then quickly revised. “None of this comes from a place of being judgmental of the ways we are forced to live. I still have these plastic glasses because that is what I can afford.”

Nelson’s study of human history and her childhood spent on the beaches of Florence, Oregon, have given her a unique perspective on the problem of plastics and their effect on the environment. In response, she recently started a plastic-free online market – Peace Seed Organic, based out of Oregon City – as a way of offering consumers an alternative to commonly purchased disposable plastic items.

“The concept of Peace Seed Organic is zero waste,” she explained. “The products that we sell are all really high quality products.”

Her dream is to one day open an entire grocery store devoid of plastic and where consumers know items are organic and made in America without having to read a label. Until then she is building her online marketplace and offering information about waste reduction whenever she can.

“It kind of goes beyond just plastics – it’s kind of looking at what you’re putting in the garbage, looking in your cupboards and the tools you use,” she said. “It almost requires you to go back 75 years and think – how did people live without plastics?”

One way previous generations made due without the use of this now common material was to cook at home from scratch.

“Have a look at what you throw away and recycle over a week and figure out what types of plastic are the biggest part of your waste stream and start searching for alternatives,” said Beth Myers-Shenai – who is a Marion County Master Recycler that worked for the county’s Waste Reduction Program as a marketing outreach and composting specialist for five years.

Myers-Shenai also suggested that reducing plastic consumption – not recycling – needs to be a primary focus.

“Recycling is a distant third to reducing and reusing as far as positive environmental impacts,” she explained. “Even though recycling some plastics was an option before, it was still not a very good one – environmentally speaking.  Recycling it is energy-intensive and the quality of the plastic is downgraded (and often not recyclable a second time) – when you do so it will still be eventually destined for disposal anyway.”

Instead, Myers-Shenai suggests determining which plastics make up the bulk of the waste stream and researching alternatives.

“Packaging is by far the biggest generator of plastic waste that was previously accepted for recycling here but is now not,” she said. “Scrutinize your purchases and ask yourself if there is another way to get the item without all the packaging.”

Shenai-Myers suggested consumers pick one place to start – conceding that major change can be difficult.

“Don’t try to do everything all at once or you’ll just get burned out and throw up your hands,” she cautioned. “Find one small way to adapt your routine in a more earth friendly way, and when that change becomes an every-day habit then look for the next thing. It is also important to realize that there are positive changes happening behind the scenes to (make) sustainable changes society-wide.”

Nelson agreed with this sentiment adding, “We want it to be inviting and positive. That’s how cultural change occurs – in really small increments.”

Reduce
Purchase less new items by borrowing and sharing, posting requests for second-hand items online and supporting local thrift stores and resale shops.

Buy in bulk.

Make food items from scratch.

Look for alternatives that use less/no packaging or packaged in biodegradable plant-based material.

Carry reusable containers for leftovers.

Utilize reusable cups and straws for takeaway drinks; reusable water bottles; cloth grocery bags, produce bags and snack pouches and sealable beeswax coated cloths to keep foods fresh.

Use mason jars for leftovers and packed lunches.

Reuse
Use containers to store leftovers, bulk foods, spices and household products.

Get crafty with empty containers.

Wash and reuse resealable bags.

References
When you recycle – recycle correctly:
www.co.marion.or.us/PW/ES/disposal/programs/recycling

Contact schools for lists of recycled materials needed for projects.

Learn how to recycle – www.terracycle.com

Tips on waste reduction – www.trashfortossers.com

Purchase plastic-free, organic goods –
www.peaceseedorganic.com

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