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7 Misconceptions about Plastic Recycling February 21, 2005 8:56 AM

I am indebted to Donna Dove for her recent network message on this. I’ve asked her for the source and permission to cross-post, and am awaiting her reply. Meanwhile, here’s the essence of it: 1. Plastics sent for recycling do not become new containers, but other products such as road surfacing. This does not reduce the use of virgin materials. 2. Curbside collection does not necessarily reduce the amount of plastic landfilled. In fact, as it seems to make plastic environmentally friendly, people might buy more - even though most kinds of plastic still can’t be recycled. 3. The chasing arrows symbol does not mean a plastic container is recyclable. The only information given is the number inside, indicating the general class of resin used to make the container. 4. Packaging resins are not made from petroleum waste but from non-renewable resources - mostly, from the same natural gas used in homes to heat water and cook. 5. Plastics recyclers do not pay to promote plastics recyclability. Most PR comes from virgin plastic manufacturers, aiming to diminish their greatest challenge to market expansion: negative public perception of their product as environmentally harmful. 6. Using plastic containers does not conserve energy. Making plastic involves as much energy as making glass from virgin materials, and much more than making glass from recycled materials. 7. Our choice is not limited to recycling or wasting. Source reduction is easier and better for many types of plastic; you can use refillable containers, buy in bulk, and buy things that don’t need much packaging or come in recyclable and recycled packages.  [ send green star]
 
 February 21, 2005 9:00 AM

The message, as with all waste reduction, is this - in order of preference: 1. REDUCE 2. REUSE 3. RECYCLE And here are some ideas: Ignore fancy packaging. Biscuits, nuts and cakes can usually be found in simple wrappers, and if they’re for a gift or special occasion: why not “tart them up” yourself? It therefore follows that Easter Eggs must be avoided like the plague! They’re a rip-off anyway. Toothbrushes can be re-used for fiddly cleaning jobs. Disinfect them, dry them thoroughly and keep one for each task: ornate silverware; taps; shoes; pets’ feeding mats; small stains on carpets. Margarine tubs are ideal for lunch boxes, or freezing portions of soup (you can microwave them too). Or stack some together, with screws in one, string in another, etc ... you could even design your own toolbox! Instead of rolls of cling wrap, cover containers tightly with carrier bags. Expel the air, then fasten securely. Bin liners? Purpose-made bags for nappies and dog mess? Why, for pity’s sake, when carrier bags will do the job?! They can even be used as shower caps. And if they have holes in them, double them up. You can use any flat surface of plastic (e.g. lids of tubs, sides of milk bottles) to make plant tags. Simply cut a strip, snip the end to a point and write on it with a permanent marker. Nylon tights/stockings/pantyhose: stuff for draught excluders; tie up plants with them; wear old pairs under jeans for warmth; use instead of muslin for cheese-making, bouquets garni, sprouting seeds; use as sieves, vegetarian sausage skins, etc, etc ... There are more ideas in other threads, but I’ve already repeated myself a few times! Please add your own thoughts and ideas here.  [ send green star]
 
 February 21, 2005 8:06 PM

sarahjane, i'm gonna go with your lightbulb theme, i like it
make as much as you can yourself rather than buying pre-made things. homemade is sooo much better.
my toothbrush is made by a company called terradent. i keep the handle bit and only replace the head when it wears out.
buy dog and cat food in the biggest bags they have and when empty, use 'em for the trashcan liner.
plastics contain a lot of toxins (some are made so as not to leech the toxins into whatever they contain) and microwaves molecularly alter food. the combination is even worse: http://www.energywave.com/environmental-issues/toxins/carcinogen-plastic.htm
throw away the microwave and don't keep anything stored in plastic for a long time.
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Yikes! February 22, 2005 1:12 AM

Thanks for the info, Celene. I remember now hearing something about microwaves and plastic, but didn't really pay attention because I don't even have one! Will warn those who do, though. I presume plastic's still OK in the freezer? If not, we're all in trouble ...  [ send green star]
 
plastic sucks!!! February 22, 2005 1:46 AM


thanx again to donna dove for this info.....

i might add that in most areas, only 1 & 2 type plastics are collected for recycling. unfortunately, neither is actually food grade plastic, but they are used for beverages like water, milk, soda, etc. the way the bottlers/manufacturers get away with this is that the containers are deemed "single use only". some beverage containers will actually say on the label "do not reuse this container". i myself like so many people, have reused plastic water bottles multiple times. as they age, the plasticizers (what makes plastic pliable) degrade rapidly, increasing the amount of contamination in the liquid they contain. these toxins are the kind that bioaccumulate in fatty tissues, essentially making women's breasts a target.

plastics #5-#7 are food/pharmaceutical grade and aren't as pliable, and don't break down as quickly. however, these are seldom recyclable as the demand is very low.

finally, as some of the myths allude to, plastic isn't actually "recycleable" in the sense it can be reused/reprocessed multiple times. the plastic degrades when it is reprocessed, meaning you just can't make the same thing out of recyled plastic that it was used for in the first place. so this actually equates to simple "reuse", even in plastic "recyling". the result is there is no actual loop to be completed with plastics, so the biggest myth is plastic "recycling" itself.

aside from recyling myths, another underplayed factor, is that plastic is toxic. despite claims that plastic is safe, it contaminates whatever is in it eventually. also, a lot of platic is burned along with other garbage by unwitting consumers in their homes, or even in landfills, though i don't think that practice of burning waste at landfills is legal in too many states, but i'm pretty sure they do in idaho.

i learned all this quite awhile ago, and am just going on what i remember, so i may be misrepresenting a little....
nonetheless, across the board, plastic is bad for the environment and all living creatures.
the only slightly beneficial application i can see would be in the medical industry, but even there alternatives should be found.
i've heard of promising developments about "plastics" being made from more natural and much less toxic resources such as agricultural waste.

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boycott nalgene! February 22, 2005 1:48 AM


the popular plastic bottle company also makes animal testing equipment...

the rabbit restrainer...

just another reason why plastic sucks!

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pic February 22, 2005 2:04 AM

this is just a better version of the pic
you can see it's says "nalgene"

Nalge dropped this device from its catalog shortly after the
boycott began. RMAD has been unable to confirm, however,
that the company in fact no longer sells it.
http://www.rmad.org/nalgene.html
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 February 22, 2005 3:29 PM

Oh my gosh!!!!  This sucks!!!!  Poor Bunny!!!!  [ send green star]
 
anonymous  February 24, 2005 6:25 AM

Thanks for info everyone  [report anonymous abuse]  [ accepted]
 
something about recycled plastic February 24, 2005 6:25 PM

you know, there are a lot of cool (literally and figuratively) clothes that are made of recycled plastics. they're ever so much better than cotton if you're really being physically active because they wick sweat away from your body so you effectively cool and they dry super quickly. capilene is one of the fibers made from recycled plastic and i LOVE it. i just want to let everyone know that there are actually some good things being done with your #1 & 2 plastics.  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
 
 February 24, 2005 6:40 PM

good point celene,
they also make fleece out of recycled plastic, which is soft, warm, and cozy.
i would much rather wear that to keep warm than the wool of some poor exploited sheep.

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anonymous thanks August 25, 2005 6:15 AM

Hippie for that link under the rabbit pic! That website has lots of neat info and links!

Poor bunny tho ! =(

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 August 26, 2005 2:01 AM

Hippie, imagine what sheep look like if they are never clipped. Come to that, I wonder how sheep fared before humans came on the scene.

The material made from recycled plastic must come from Europe. In Europe everything is recycled (or almost everything - unsure). I often wonder why it is that the US refuses to take Europe's lead in many things, including health care.

Thanks so much for the tips on plastic recycling and potential health issues concerning reused plastics.

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Unclipped Sheep August 26, 2005 2:37 AM

http://www.lbrought.com/Shrek.html

Here's what a sheep looks like that has avoided being shorn for quite some time

Meg

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this topic has turned... August 26, 2005 4:50 AM

...decidedly odd but informative.

Plastic grocery bags--I stopped getting them at the grocery store--I now only use my own fabric carry out sacks I got for free from my soul sucking job-- but prior to that I used plastic grocery bags weekly and refused to throw them out so saved a whole tub of them in my garage for the last year and was just getting ready to take the whole batch to the recycle company near my new home--but I don't think I will now after reading this topic. Considering I won't be getting any more of them, I was thinking of using them in other ways.

I have this idea of weaving them into rope. Has anyone done this and do they have any tips?

Also, you can stuff pillows with them for humans or pets. My cats like to lay on them anyway. I was also thinking that they can be woven into door mats. These are just ideas I had that I haven't tried--except the pillow idea--that works great.

Thanks Sarah for passing on the information--it's something all people need to be aware of and definitely has given me ideas.

MJ

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Wow! August 26, 2005 5:54 AM

Thanks for all of the info! 

I've been buying old pottery-type bowls and such at thrift stores to slowly weed out my plastic dishware collection.  Some of these dishes have a real retro look and I've gotten several compliments on them.  Besides, having a cheap-costing meal on a nice ceramic plate makes the meal seem just alittle nicer.    I also use fabric bags for grocery shopping (and other shopping).  If I have a huge load, I'll ask for the paper bags and then use them for trashcan liners, THEN use them in my compost pile.  3 for 1! 

Thanks again SarahJane for starting this message.  I'm going to forward this to as many friends as I can to get the word out about those "bad" plastics.

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 August 26, 2005 6:12 AM

Plastic bag "yarn" can be plaited, crocheted or knitted. I'd imagine that several strands twisted together would make a pretty strong rope, so it's well worth a try.

Plastic Bag Crochet

The Bag Bed

Plastic Bag Earth Day Rug

Health warning, though: keep away from fire !!!!



Burning plastic is highly dangerous. It releases poisonous chemicals into the air, and if it sticks to your skin it will leach into your bloodstream. Horrible thought, I know, but one you can't ignore.

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 September 02, 2005 10:29 PM

I know its a long way off but I'm with you on the "Easter Eggs must be avoided like the plague!" thing.

Also those selection boxes at xmas.  Why do people pay for all that extra wrapping?  given the choice of twice as much chocolate, or a shiny box, my kids go for more chocolate everytime!!

I've been seriously cutting done on my plastic use, and have got some cool cotton bags from my local Fair Trade shop, which I take shopping with me.  I'm going to use up my last lot of plastic bags with some of those tips posted above!!
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Plastic Manufacture September 03, 2005 2:46 PM

My ex was a plastics engineer, working for various companies while we were together that made plastic packaging.  What appalled me was the huge amount of waste that goes into making what are essentially throw-away items.  It was sickening.  Companies have 'quality control' tolerances for their packaging that far exceed the usefulness of their product.  Thousands and thousands of shampoo bottles etc are thrown away because of a blemish that no one but the plastic techs and/or marketing gurus can see.  It is HUGELY wasteful. 

One company several years ago was very excited about the sudden enthusiasm for liquid hand soap - they can tart it up so much more and charge more for it, they even planned to cut back on their normal cake soap production.  Fantastic - the world needs more over packaged product!!

Grrrrrrr - I should not get started on plastic use & production . . .

Meg

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I hear you about packaging September 03, 2005 2:50 PM

I wish everywhere we could access bulk products and not have packaging! that is ridiculous, expensive, wastefull and unpractical! i could go on and on about my disgust in some modern technology!!!!!

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 September 06, 2005 9:36 AM

Couple of questions . . .

First, Sarah Jane, thank you for all the wonderful tips! But what are carrier bags?

Also, I have a few hemp bags I bring with me to do my grocery shopping but sometimes I forget. When that happens, is it best to use paper bags then rather than plastic ones? I reuse both several times, but I would like to use the one that has the least negative environmental impact.

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 September 06, 2005 9:55 AM

"Carrier bags" = grocery bags. I didn't realise they weren't called that outside the UK! Thanks for pointing it out, Leafy.

I've read reliable evidence that fresh paper bags are no "greener" than plastic ones; I don't have time to track down where I found that, but perhaps someone else here knows?

I occasionally have to succumb to taking what the supermarket gives me as well. Nobody's perfect but at least some of us are trying, eh?

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 September 07, 2005 12:33 PM

Does anyone know what grocery stores do with the plastic bags people return for recycling? At least in my area (Central Florida), some supermarkets have bins where you can drop off your grocery-store plastic bags (and the local library when I was up north had one, too). So where do those go? And has anyone else seen those park benches made of recycled plastic? It seems like a neat idea, but does that actually reduce ecological impact on anything, or does it just produce more waste in the making of the bench? Is it better or worse than making park benches out of wood? Crystal http://www.starandcrossbones.com -sail to the tide of a different sea-  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
 
Supermarket recycling September 08, 2005 3:20 AM

Good questions, Crystal.

Why not ask your supermarket exactly what they do with those bags, next time you're in? They should have that information available for customers; if they haven't yet, you'll be doing everyone a favour by asking.

In general, though, they get sent to a plant where they're sorted and processed into pellets. These can then be turned into a number of different products, including (deep breath): sewer pipes; flooring; window frames; building insulation board; VHS, CD and DVD cases; fencing and garden furniture; water butts, garden sheds and composters; seed trays; anoraks and fleeces; fibre filling for sleeping bags and duvets; and a variety of office accessories.

Oh, and more bags of course!

It's worth noting that dirty bags might be rejected; although processors can clean them, it's unclear as to whether or not they actually do.

It's also unclear what's happening regarding bidegradable plastic, which has been possible for years. I know Sainsbury's used to make a thing of it, but they don't seem to offer them any more. Industry pressure, perhaps?

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Benches September 08, 2005 3:29 AM

I recently investigated this issue for a nature reserve warden, who was trying to decide whether to go for a recycled plastic bench or sustainable wood. To be honest, I think it's six of one and half-a-dozen of the other.

On the one hand, the plastic is stronger and longer-lasting. On the other, it takes more energy to produce, and the process can involve toxic by-products.

Fuel costs need to be taken into account as well; which is nearer, the wood source or the plastic processing plant? And plastic is lighter to transport, but unless it's travelling overseas this shouldn't make a great deal of difference.

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Heh September 08, 2005 7:22 AM

I would think the plastic wood is better, but maybe thats better in a mass production system like a whole park.

I dont think there are too many toxics in the process because the plastic cannot be messed w/ too much.  I think it is just heat and pressure.

I have had ideas about using shopping bags as part of recycling sorting.

If people had a wire frame shelf rather than a garbage can, where the bags would slip over side-holders, they could just toss the various categories of recycling into the bag, tie it up and slip another one over the side-holders

Then the bags would have to go to the right factory.  I think they would have to be slightly larger than what we have here in the US, and they would have to be clear-ish to ID what is inside


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 September 08, 2005 1:23 PM

I actually don't shop at normal supermarkets much at the moment, so I won't have much of an opportunity to ask them what they do with the bags. I just remember them from when I was younger and I thought the recycled plastic bag drop-off was Super Cool. Besides, I'd be willing to bet that most of the kids working at the store have less of a clue than I have about where those bags go. I could just happen to ask for the manager while dropping by the local supermarket, though, I suppose. And re: biodegradable plastics, the company that makes Cocoa-Dusies (I think I'm misspelling that and am missing an umlaut, or something ) uses either biodegradable or some other form of degradable plastic in its packaging -- I remember being surprised by seeing the note on the bag the other day. Cocoa-Dusies are a cocoa-flavored whole wheat "tube," kind of like oversized Cocoa Puffs crossed with Cheerios, except not as sweet as either, if anyone is wondering. But the company that makes them is German, I believe -- another score for Europeans on the progressive environmental stuff! Crystal Star and Crossbones - free-spirited jewelry and more http://www.starandcrossbones.com -sail to the tide of a different sea-  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
 
 October 21, 2005 2:54 PM

well I learned alot about plastics and recycling them here.  I thought I was doing such a good thing, although I will continue. As for the microwave a new study has come out that the leaching from the plastic in the original studies (amybe older microwaves) was near nil, not up to finding link now, saw on TV a few weeks ago and was very surprised. Of course it depends on the grade of plastic container you are using.

As for bags have lots of cloth ones I keep on the back of my wheelchair so they can be loaded or used by others for shopping for me. There were $1 piece quite some time back and I got alot of them

Sunshine, later .... (the bunny!!!!)

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 October 22, 2005 7:35 AM

Not sure if I have mentioned this somewhere else...
But I used to buy these "greeen" nappies, that were packaged in a bag that was made from corn/maize fibres..It looked just like plastic, but was biodegradable.

It would be a good idea for other products that come in non-recycleable containers (I'm thinking crisps, snacks, sweets...) to look at their packaging and see if they can make an alternative.

Will have a look on the web for that corn stuff....
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anonymous  October 22, 2005 8:16 AM

i've seen deli containers (at capers aka wild oats)made of that corn fibre stuff ... i don't know why the process isn't more widely used?  [report anonymous abuse]  [ accepted]
 
anonymous On The Topic of Plastics January 11, 2008 12:20 PM

There was a take action article the other day about plastics that talked about the different numbers and what they were made from.  http://www.care2.com/greenliving/kitchen-plastic-easy-greening.html

Also, I agree that having totebags is great.  Mine folds up into my purse so I don't have to worry about not having it around when I need it.  My grocery store actually does have some for $1 right now but I looked at them and they do not seem to be the same size/ quality/ organic/ fairtrade that the current totebag I have is.  The good news though is that my mom is starting to look into getting a bag for herself because of all the plastic bags we have left over from shopping.  We do reuse our plastic bags for garbage by putting it on one of those over the door hooks but it still seems like a lot of waste.

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 January 14, 2008 5:16 AM

i agree with the observation about EASTER EGGS!! the packaging is part of the point, unfortunately - there is always vast quantities of packing, and a TINY amount of chocolate inside....  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
 
anonymous  July 03, 2008 9:20 AM

I just found this site that takes back its razors and toothbrush handles and sends you new ones. They also sell plastic tableware and stuff from recycled plastic.  http://www.recycline.com/aboutus.html
Although I prefer to use renewable head toothbrushes and razors and thrifted glassware; Maybe someone would be interested though

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Fun with plastic July 03, 2008 5:06 PM

Hello, I would first like to say that there's great info here and I'm glad I joined this group. BTW, the rabit in the photo is a nice reminder of the ugly side of our creative abilities.

As for plastic, one of the things I found both fun and useful is taking those plastic garden containers and instead of throuwing them away or whatever after you've transfered the vegitation is to decorate them with acrylics (stencils can be found everywhere for artist's of all skill levels) and use one for a key depot, a couple for snail mail, etc. Obviously all types of plastic stuff's can be re-used in this manner. Let your imagination go wild. It's fun and nature friendly.

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anonymous Plastic and recycling December 17, 2008 8:54 PM

This group ROCKS!!

Here in New Zealand we have recycling too, and I've never worried about buying things in plastic and recycling - until NOW.

Thanks so much for putting us right about what actually happens to our plastic after we've tossed it in our bins. I will be VERY careful about what I buy from now on.

I usually use re-usable bags when shopping, instead of the ones they supply in the supermarkets. I know I could do a whole lot better though.

Thank you for making us more aware of recycling and shopping.

Sue

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 October 04, 2009 1:28 PM

Good info!   I have kept a few of the glass containers that had organic tea in them.  I cleaned them and put them in the fridge so that they are chilled and ready to be used for "to go" water or whatever. 

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 July 12, 2010 10:54 AM

All kinds of excellent information here.  Thank you to everyone who has posted so far.

My family is actively trying to reduce our plastics use.  It's really tricky at times, but we've made a noticeable reduction not only in our plastics use, but in our overall household garbage volume.

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 July 12, 2010 5:03 PM

I need to start paying attention to such things.  Too bad we don't have reuseable containers which can be used to buy bulk items.

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