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By Judith Anderson
My experiential learning began on Dec. 1, with the simple goal of not buying any single-use plastic until Jan. 1, 2022.
On day 2, Dec. 2, my plan was shot. I visited three stores to collect cleaning supplies for a depleted inventory at home. Heavy duty cleaners with low toxicity led me to consider one-quart or half-gallon jugs coded P.E.T. or PETE, the No. 1 recycling category, denoting the petrochemical industry favorite polyethylene terephthalate.
I validated my purchase by planning to refill and reuse existing squirt bottles. I bought a gallon of reliable Simple Green, a one-liter plastic bottle of Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap, and some Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day products in the largest size offered.
Nixing window and glass cleaning solutions for the cheaper DIY method of diluted vinegar, I still felt I needed an abrasive booster for tough jobs. I bought the largest 12-pound sack of Arm & Hammer’s Baking Soda, the standard of purity.
But an unfamiliar symbol appeared on the upper left of the package: a horizontal figure eight-tipped with arrows and the name ‘Terracycle.’ On the backside was the printed tip to recycle this bag through terracycle.com, or alternatively put in the trash. So, I couldn’t just mindlessly toss it into the CR&R brown bin for curbside recycling?
I decided to call to find out more about such contradictory advice, and how Terracycle would collect and process this sack for successful reuse. My brief chat with an Arm & Hammer representative explained this particular bag was made of mixed-plastics; specifically, nylon and polyethylene.
But it was not coded with the decades-old recycling symbols I, a willing consumer, had become reliant on. As I had continued buying goods in plastic (single-use or not), discarding these ubiquitous plastics in curb-side collectors had become a therapeutic act, calming my innate guilt of increased consumption.
Not quite defeated, I also started gathering single–use plastic containers, bags, and film wrapping (previously bought but now finished). After two weeks, my dedicated trash can was overflowing with these items. In spite of my earlier pledge, it still contained take-out food packaging or excess produce wrapping. The family couldn’t seem to avoid it.
I’m admittedly discouraged. It appears we now live with planetary pollution so insidious it is increasingly choking us out of existence. Falling into the rabbit hole of this plastic pollution pandemic, and with renewed urgency for innovative solutions for world-changing impact, 2022 is only eight years away from sustainability goals for 2030.
Tackling the source of the problem with plastic reduction policies, and bans of single-use products, is essential. But they take time. At least in California, the legislature passed SB 270, the plastic-bag ban in 2016, and at least eight other states have similar laws enacted.
By becoming “plastic clever,” I’ve made an oath to refuse and reject single-use products, primarily by ditching the big four single–use plastic polluters: straws, bags, cups, and utensils. Although each one of us is a mere droplet in the rising tide of an ocean filled with more microplastic than fish, I feel a minimal sense of accomplishment with daily action.
So, walk softly, my friends, and carry your own bag, cup and fork.
For further research, citizen action support and practical resources check out How to Give Up Plastic by Will McCallum, or Plastic Wars, a Frontline documentary released in March 2020, available on YouTube. You can also visit: esrag.org; terracycle.org; and how2recycle.com.
Judith Anderson has lived in San Juan Capistrano for 31 years, is a portrait and culture photographer, an architectural assistant and architectural tour guide for the SJC Historical Society and the Friends of the Library of SJC, as well as a member of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby/Education of South Orange County.