Since we have been called the “throwaway society,” I think that many of us that are a bit embarrassed by that were oh-so-happy when we were offered the opportunity to recycle some of our garbage. It includes bottles, cans, paper, and some plastics, and we feel pretty good about sending all that stuff back to be made into new stuff. We naturally wish for the very best results so as to gain a maximum of guilt relief. In doing so, I think we allowed ourselves to believe a few fantasies.
The first fantasy is that everybody would recycle, and we would not be making a goodly number of containers from virgin materials ever again. We now know that actually not very many of us recycle. About 60 percent of fastidious Northern Europeans recycle, but only about 30 percent of the rest, like us, do.
The next fantasy is that recyclable materials are actually getting recycled. About 91 percent of plastics don’t even make it to the recycler. Of those that do, we’ve had a convenient arrangement where the Chinese buy all our baled plastics: out of sight, out of mind. Recently the Chinese have decided that our recyclables have been too wet and dirty, and they don’t want them anymore. Last I heard, our bales are piling up across the country and nobody knows what to do with them. Remember that those bales only represent about a third of all potential recyclables. Those go with the “garbage” to the landfill.
Fantasy number 3 is that it’s okay to cheat a little when deciding what goes in your recycle bin. Jeremy Hale of Zero Waste Vashon calls this “wish cycling.” This includes a little broken glass (maybe window glass or a vase), the paper or cardboard that has the tiniest coat of plastic on it, or grease or cheese (how could that matter?), plastics not numbered 1 or 2 (plastic is plastic, right?). At best, all those items are culled by the recycler at their expense and sent to the landfill, or, at worst, they make it into a bale and the whole bale goes to the landfill. Our little indiscretion is not little, but it eventually can be pretty indiscrete.
Not only are our recyclables piling up, but our Cedar Hills landfill is filling up, and we are now faced with paying to get our garbage hauled to another big hole out of state, or burning it, from which we get some energy and a lot of toxic pollution. Clearly, we need to stop using this stuff in the first place.
One bit of good news is that our state legislature is presently considering a bill to outlaw the use of plastic grocery bags (the big crinkly ones with the handle holes). The bill is HB 1205. As of now, it is still alive so give our Reps a call in support.
Zero Waste Vashon, our better angels trying to curb our wastefulness, is giving us an opportunity to change at least one of our many wasteful habits: using single-use hot beverage containers. You may think that your paper coffee or tea cup is recyclable and you may be throwing it in the recyclable bin. It has that tiny coat of plastic on it that makes it unrecyclable. In the US, we use 110 million of them every day!
Why not just not use them in the first place? That is what Zero Waste Vashon is hoping to entice you to do. For the month of April, all of your favorite Island coffee shops will be giving you a nice discount on your drink if you bring in your own mug (BYOM). This is a win/win/win. You save money and have your drink in a container that won’t burn your fingers, collapse in your hand, or allow your drink to cool before you finish it. The coffee shop saves money on single use cups, lids, and sleeves. We all cut down on our carbon footprint (¼ pound of CO2 per cup), and send one less single-use cup to the landfill. All we have to do is to remember to grab our mug before we leave home. Better yet, keep one in your car, your purse, or maybe inside your hat. A lot of us have trained ourselves to have cloth grocery bags in our cars. We can do this.
The coffee shops that are participating in the month of April will have a notice in their window and other visible placards . At this time, the coffee and tea shops that have committed to participating are: Thriftway, Café Luna, Wild Mermaid/Snapdragon, AJ’s, the Roasterie/Minglement, Anu Rana’s, Vashon Bakery, Burton Coffee Stand, and the Vashon Theater. Some vendors have suggested that they may continue to offer some sort of discount beyond the month of April.
As for us, we might begin to notice all the other single use containers we run into and maybe try to avoid them, or ask the vendors to figure out how to incorporate reusable containers into their business. This problem has already reached the point of the ridiculous, so some drastic steps are long overdue.