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Posts Tagged ‘Packaging’

Plastic bags overflowing with empty plastic bottles

I used to pride myself on my recycling efforts. I would compare my overflowing recycling bin with my neighbors and wish more people recycled. I felt it was our duty, responsibility, and obligation to protect our planet.

However, my recycling pride was deflated when I read a report from the Department of Energy that showed only 5% of plastics were recycled in 2019. A whopping 86% of plastics end up in landfills and the rest is burned to generate electricity. I finally realized that just because a product has a recycling arrow on it, does not mean it’s being recycled, especially if it is plastic.

So how do we reduce our plastic consumption? Let’s examine four common household purchases and see why plastic should be avoided.

1. Food: Paper Box Rather Than Plastic Cups
Sometimes, there is a hefty economic and environmental cost to convenience, like this example with macaroni and cheese. Turns out mac and cheese from the box is 17 cents/ounce, while the plastic cups cost 61 cents/ounce. Even worse, the consumer is left with four #5 plastic containers, which are one of the least recycled post-consumer plastics, at a rate below 1%. Compare this to paper and paperboard, which have a recycling rate of 68%.

Box of Mac N Cheese next to 4 plastic cups of Mac N Cheese

2. Fruit: Metal Cans Rather Than Plastic Cups
The cost difference between pears in a metal can and in plastic cups is negligible. However, the environmental cost is substantial. As mentioned above, #5 plastic has a recycling rate of less than 1% while the recycling rate for steel cans is 71%. Of course, fresh pears are package free. To have the smallest environmental impact possible, shop with reusable produce and grocery bags, then throw the pear core in a compost bin.

A metal can of pears next to pre-packaged cups of pears

3. Soda Pop: Cans Rather Than Bottles
There is little cost difference between pop cans and bottles. But once again, the environmental difference is noteworthy. Aluminum cans are the most recycled category of aluminum at 50%, compared to the recycling rate of #1 plastics which is 29%.

Aluminum can of Diet Mountain Dew next to a plastic bottle of Diet Mountain Dew

4. Soap: Bar Rather Than Liquid
Again, the cost between bar and liquid soap is minimal, so let’s compare the packaging. Soap bars are often packaged in paper, which have a recycling rate of 68% while liquid soap is often packaged in #2 plastic containers, which have a recycling rate of 29%. This information also applies to laundry detergent. If you are looking to avoid the large, #2 plastic jugs of laundry soap, consider plastic-free laundry powder, bars, tablets, or sheets.

Body wash in a plastic bottle next to 6 bards of soap

Stay Informed
The dos and don’ts of recycling changes frequently. Stay up to date on what you can recycle curbside and look for additional opportunities to recycle in your community, through zero-waste organizations or your solid waste district.

Final Thoughts
As summer winds down, it’s a great time to start planning waste-free lunches for your kids. The goal is similar: reduce waste and reliance on convenient, single-use, hard-to-recycle items. The next time you are at the store, reach for the apple sauce in the glass jar rather than the plastic one. Mother Earth will thank you.

Note: Item descriptions, prices, and photos were retrieved by the author at a local grocery store that is affiliated with a national supermarket chain on 7/18/2022.

For more information about plastic and recycling, visit:

Written by: Laura M. Stanton, Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Educator, Warren County. Email: stanton.60@osu.edu

Reviewed by: Courtney Warman, Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Program Specialist, Healthy Finances. Email: warman.44@osu.edu

Photo Credits: Cover image by rawpixel.com. All other photos by Laura M. Stanton, 2022.

References:

Bollas, B. (2021). Reducing your single-use plastic waste. Ohio State University Extension. https://fcs.osu.edu/sites/fcs/files/imce/PDFs/Single_Use_Plastics.pdf

Leblanc, R. (2019, May 9). An overview of polypropylene recycling. The Balance Small Business. https://www.thebalancesmb.com/an-overview-of-polypropylene-recycling-2877863

Milbrandt, A., Coney, K., Badgett, A., and Beckham, G. (2022). Quantification and evaluation of plastic waste in the United States. Resources, Conservation & Recycling, Volume 183. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.resconrec.2022.106363

Stanton, L. M. (2021). Ten tips for packing waste-free lunches. Ohio State University Extension. https://go.osu.edu/waste-free-lunches

Stanton, L. M. (2021). How to pack waste-free lunches. Ohio State University Extension. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wv_zyW-WzZY

United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2021, November 15). Ten ways to unpackage your life. https://www.epa.gov/trash-free-waters/ten-ways-unpackage-your-life

United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2022, July 9). Facts and figures about materials, waste, and recycling. https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling

Woelfl, C. (2021, June 7). Our plastic problem. Ohio State University Extension. https://livehealthyosu.com/2021/06/07/our-plastic-problem

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