Karen Telleen-Lawton: Recycling: The Gig is Up | Homes & Lifestyle

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By Karen Telleen-Lawton, Noozhawk Columnist | October 7, 2019 | 4:00 p.m.

I am so bummed. I’ve prided myself in how little we toss into the trash compared to our recycling bin, following the rules on the lid.

We pack cloth grocery bags, reuse and recycle plastic bags, and often remember to bring our own reusable plastic containers for restaurant leftovers. Our pantry contains more glass than plastic food containers, and we use bar soap to spare the earth yet one more source of plastic.

My pride took a major hit when MarBorg’s new recycling rules came out recently. Forget the little numbers in the triangle on plastic containers. Plastics are no longer recycled, except for caps-on empty beverage bottles, rigid plastic greater than six inches, empty laundry detergent bottles, plastic flowerpots, tray, and toys, and large plastic tubs and buckets.

Apparently the recycling story we told ourselves for decades was not really working. Evidence has been piling up — literally — for years about gyres of ocean garbage. It was back in 1997 that the gyres were first discovered by marine researcher Charles Moore.

China and other Asian countries are no longer willing to take our recycling or garbage. Since 45 percent of the garbage gyre is said to originate from Asia, it seems likely we paid to ship our trash halfway across the world, and it’s making its way slowly back.

Actually, it’s long since arrived. Scripps oceanographer Jennifer Brandon and her co-authors recently analyzed a core of sediment excavated from a mile off from Santa Barbara’s coast. Since the 1940s, the quantity of microplastic in each sediment layer has doubled every 15 years.

Brandon’s core sample doesn’t try to analyze the plastics’ origin, but other studies indicate 80 percent of microplastics in the ocean gyres come from land-based activities: tipped or animal-raided trash cans, streets, and landfills. The trash may not have been littered originally, but blown or strewn into rivers, sewers, or the ocean. Twenty percent is ship-based: items that are thrown or lost overboard.

Despite efforts so far, it’s still arriving from points far and near. The Santa Barbara count for the Sept. 21 International Coastal Cleanup Day included 5,664 pounds of trash and 684 pounds of recyclables from 58 miles of coastline. (Thank you to the 1259 participants.)

All this hit home for me when I had to toss #1 and #2 plastic food containers into the trash. My kitchen trash was full with still another day before the weekly trash collection. I called MarBorg about the new recycling rules.

Basically, they reflect what MarBorg can sell now for reuse in making recycled consumer products. Part of the problem is food contamination and the difficulty of separating mixed articles like wax-coated cardboard. An important factor is that products made from recycled materials are not as strong and thus can’t be re-recycled.

These changes make me realize how much we thought we were sparing from landfill that we weren’t. What are we to do? On an individual level, we need to provide our own reusable containers as much as possible, for groceries, restaurant take-out, and all purchases. When we toss something into the trash, we need to consider it might end up in the ocean.

We need to demand more (meaning less) from businesses. If consumers demand it, businesses will rethink ways to package and will figure out ways to encourage consumers to reduce plastics in products and packaging.

How about a jingle like “Better to buy from bins!”

Just sayin’.

— Karen Telleen-Lawton serves seniors and pre-seniors as the principal of Decisive Path Fee-Only Financial Advisory in Santa Barbara. You can reach her with your financial planning questions at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.



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