Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Our addiction

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, stretches from California to Hawaii AP

The oil catastrophe in the Gulf has our attention now, but equally bad is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that stretches from off-shore California to off-shore Hawaii and lest people on the Atlantic seaboard feel left out, there is another Garbage Patch forming there too. It is made up primarily of plastic; plastic fiber net ropes, plastic shopping bags, plastic beverage bottles. It is suspected in the death of many marine animals and fish because some ingest the plastic as they feed for krill and ingest the indigestible plastic at the same time. Other deaths occur when an animals body part gets caught in plastic fiber, abandoned, nets and the animal (seals, dolphins for example) or fish (think sharks) or sea turtle ,drowns. .

As hard as it is to believe, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is as much a petroleum environmental disaster as the one in the Gulf , because most plastics are made from petroleum. Those that aren't still usually depend on petroleum products (gas, diesel) for the energy that drives the machines that make them.

Found in the stomach of a dead Minsk Whale, London Telegraph

The drive for recycling is only part of the answer because recycling itself uses so much energy. For example, cardboard can be recycled many times. It is soaked in water and stirred to join the fibers again. Each time cardboard is recycled, it takes longer for the fibers to rejoin, until finally it is impossible. Each round of recycling uses a lot of water. Is this water itself recycled by being cleaned? Sadly, the usual answer is no, although this is changing.

Pile of plastic bottles

Plastic bottles can also be recycled, but think of all the energy that is used. Bottles start their "life" as blanks, made in one factory in a slender shape, and sent to a bottling plant where they are changed to the size and shape that is needed for the particular beverage. Just this far in the story, the bottle has used petroleum three times: it's creation, shipping to the bottling plant
and being changed from a blank to a bottle. Then the beverage is sent to a warehouse, from the warehouse to the store, although if it is going to a large chain, it could go to the chain's warehouse first. The bottle has now used petro a fourth time. You pick up the beverage and bring it home. From there, you put it in your recycling bin and municipal trucks pick it up. The bottle has now used petro six times. From there, it goes to the recovery center, trip seven, to the plant that grinds it into shards for reforming, trip eight. From there, it is made into a blank again, trip nine. That recycling has become pretty petro-use intensive (never mind the air pollution), although that is vastly preferable to it being dumped in the ocean or into a landfill.

These are shopping bags easily picked up at the stores we shop at. The two blue bags are insulated and cost me $2 each. Other bags are as low as 50 cents to $1
Picture by Mary Bennett C2010

Plastic shopping bags can be recycled into dog leashes, and plastic lumber (think decks), most plastic bags are not recycled. Reasons vary, it's hard to find a collector/recyclers, to the bag being re-used at home for garbage. This trend isn't going to change I fear, until municipalities stop insisting on 'clean' garbage, i.e. that all garbage be in bags instead of being able to be put directly into the pick-up can. It does take a little more house keeping to make sure that your garbage receptacle is cleaned every week, but the idea of 'clean' garbage just seems ridiculous. It retards the garbage from decomposing during a time when landfills are filling up at alarming rates.

Metals, like coffee and soda cans can be recycled indefinitely, and along with glass are the best bets for recycling. Of course like all recycling, energy use is involved, but the end product is virtually the same as the beginning product, unlike paper and plastic recycling. An added bonus of glass is the not having to worry about chemical leaching out when the product is used at high temperatures (like the microwave), or when it comes in contact with bleach (cleaning, sanitizing).

The best solution is of course the hardest solution, and that is to avoid not only extra packaging, but even original packaging as much as possible. For example, instead of buying little 16 oz jars, buying bulk containers of product and repackaging them in 8 oz, 16 oz or 32 oz canning jars. The modern kitchen usually has refrigerators, freezers and vacuum sealers to make storing the extra product until it is needed, easy.

Short of this, another great practice is to repurpose , in other words, to use an item in a different way than it was originally intended. Using soda (pop) cans as curlers might be a bit much. However, Dad's old jeans have been repurposed for the longest time by my family. Because denim is so tough, we cut out the seams, and then salvage the pant legs for making pot holders (make sure to layer them with old blanket), resew the legs into sleeves to hold plastic bags (yeah, we still use some), make bags for holding clothes pins, curlers, toy pieces, even small tote bags. The back pockets are unusually strong, so we cut them out, use a clip magnet, and they hold the small packets of seasoning that usually get lost in the cabinet. They are also good for holding coupons. When you go to the store, just bring the whole pocket with you. They fit very easily into a pocketbook. Other repurposing we have done, is to take the plastic lid from an empty can of coffee and put it on the bottom of a new can of coffee. It keeps the can from leaving a rust ring on a damp counter. There are so many ways to repurpose items, it just takes time, imagination and patience.


Sunny Day said...

I agree with your comments. Its amazing how many people make fun of recycling, and then complain about how much we depend on oil. Plastic containers are great for some things, but as you said metal and glass and be used and reused time and time again. I just wish we had some type of recycling in our area. If we attempted to recycle we would have to drive 100 times round trip to take it to a recycling station. So, we don't do it right now.

Lily said...

I like the idea of using the old jeans to make those sleeves for plastic bags. We have done the pocket holders before. The Oldest did this a while back and really glitzed and glammed them up cuz she is into bling!!

Thanks for another pertinent post, Sweet Mary :)

Mary Bennett said...

Dear Sunny, The thing about being a smart recycler, is you have to think of ALL the energy that goes into recycling, and that includes the gas that tou would have to use in order to drive to the center. There is the time where it doesn't make sense.
May-be a local community group or church could sponsor a plastic or metal drive, and hire a large truck to transport the recycleables to the recycle center?
Or write to your town/county government and let them know, you want to recycle, but there isn't any resources for doing it.
Thanks for writing!
Mary Bennett

Mary Bennett said...

Dear Lily,

It figures that Miss E would out glam me! :) The pockets do come in soo handy, and they are so easy to start using.
My husband and I arague about when his jeans are ready for the scrap bag.


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