It’s week six of 52 Weeks for Earth, the 52-week challenge to gradually reduce your impact on the planet. Over the past four weeks we’ve talked about plastic and some of the many terrible impacts it’s thoughtless consumption has on our planet. So, it should come as no surprise that we’ll continue to reduce our consumption of plastics. This week, we’ll start choosing products that are, or come packaged in, recyclable materials; like glass, metal and paper, over plastics.*
So many of the products available to us come wrapped in plastic packaging, we don’t often stop to consider how wasteful and excessive this packaging can be, or consider the long-term impacts that buying so much plastic can have, on the planet, and our health. There’s a lot of misunderstandings and assumptions about the plastic recycling process out there, and its over-consumption has normalised the problem for the majority of people.
Plastic is not truly recyclable, it’s quality grade is decreased in the process. For example, under average recycling processes, clear plastics, like water bottles and food containers, once sent to recycling won’t have every label and food scrap removed, meaning that when it’s all combined, it’s not so clear anymore. In today’s consumerist culture, this non-clear plastic makes it harder to sell the product inside, so it’s not reused for its original purpose; AKA not truly recyclable.
Lightweight plastics, like your average chip wrapper of pasta packet is a lot harder to recycle. Some grocery stores collect certain thinner plastics, like plastic grocery bags, but again the plastic grade is decreased in this process. There’s far less demand for recycled plastics, so these usually become products such as door mats, park benches and textiles, which all eventually end up in landfill.
Virgin plastic must continue to be produced en mass to keep up with the current demands, using huge quantities of petroleum and other resources to do so.
To reduce the amount of plastic waste you produce you can make a conscious effort to choose products that come in glass, metal and paper over its plastic alternative. You may be sacrificing the best deal possible, but if you can afford it, it feels a lot better than sacrificing the planet to save a buck.
Glass and mental are the best options for products and packaging, as they can both be fully recycled to what they once were. Paper is also a better choice than plastic, as it’s compostable, but it’s also not truly recyclable. Again, greater resources have to go in to the production of paper, and there’s less demand for recycled paper products. But, choosing products made of actual recyclable paper (not just paper that’s been printed with a brown texture for greenwashing) is a good way to show manufactures there is a demand for it.
If you can’t find an alternative to a product which doesn’t come wrapped in plastic consider whether you need to buy that product in the first place. Is there a way you can make it yourself, buy from the bulk sector, or from a local producer (like a bakery, for example) that you can buy from without the plastic?