Climate Connections: Plastic pollution predicament, possibilities |

Climate Connections: Plastic pollution predicament, possibilities

Shirley Freriks
Climate Connections

The purpose of this ongoing series of articles on Climate Connections is to move beyond arguments around our climate chaos and to find area we can agree on. You may not believe in climate issues of today … but you may be concerned about the use of plastics and the oceans. You may be concerned about air and water quality. Whatever you want to call it, the planet needs our stewardship. The writers here share their perspectives from many angles. Perhaps some or all will resonate with you, and bring to our awareness tnecessary actions we can take. We will leave the arguments and differing beliefs to others.

— Marilyn Nyborg

Plastic pollution in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch “larger than Texas” down to micro-plastics in our water is an outsized predicament that needs a lot of attention, and action on the already available possibilities to reduce it. The good news is that there are some.

There are actually a lot, and they start with you.

Right here in our towns, we don’t need to look very far to see plastic litter around us. And if you were in Southeast Asia, you would literally be wading in it. Sadly, those countries have received tons of it over the last many years from countries like ours that use a lot and have little capacity to recycle it effectively internally. It is a health hazard for the people in countries where it is sent as well for their smothered ecosystems. It is an impediment to their fishing industries as well as to the staple food source and health of the people. This documentary, The Story of Plastic, is an excellent portrayal of what is happening here and abroad This is a global predicament.

Waste Management and others have been trying to deal with the huge amounts of plastic we consumers throw at them, but the recycling industry in America is under duress because of the limited markets worldwide that will buy our plastic waste. There is a worldwide glut, but the good news is that the recycling industry has an opportunity to rethink how they deal with trash, particularly plastic, which will lead to better solutions.

One of the solutions comes from online recyclers. What? Yes, online! A new concept is available called the Circular Economy used by companies like TerraCycle that are dedicated to zero waste They take in our leftover plastic packaging, including plastic bags and film which cannot go to Waste Management, to munch up and make into recycled plastic containers for specific companies with whom they have contracted. They market these products so you can have a container you feel good about. Then you can send it back to be refilled or to TerraCycle to be made into another container. This keeps a lot out of the waste stream to start with.

You can purchase a Plastic Packaging recycling box at from TerraCycle or online from Staples. Shipping both directions is included in the price. Yes, it costs a bit more than putting it out at the curb, but the satisfaction of knowing that this plastic will definitely be recycled into new containers and kept out of dumps is a big selling point for me.

I am starting a neighborhood plastic collection campaign to share the cost. I think most of us want to feel good about not polluting any more than we need to, and the positive results of our recycling efforts.

But, this new commitment to less plastic trash really starts with us, you and me as consumers and business owners. We, too, have the opportunity to come up with new ways to think about what we buy and throw away, and to where.

First and foremost, we can take a critical look at our own habits and resist and reduce getting single use plastics in the first place. No way we are getting rid of plastic in our lives. It serves good purposes and is a necessity in many ways. I am grateful for it when I drop a bottle and it doesn’t break, as glass would have. Add in the recent news about microplastics in our drinking water and other places and it heightens the concerns because plastic breaks down but does not really go away. It can come back to us in unhealthy ways.

The onus is on each one of us to reduce the demand for it in the first place, particularly plastic packaging, which then backs up to the suppliers to make less, which takes less petroleum products so less needs to be drilled and fracked out of the ground. We can scrutinize the packaging and other plastic things before we buy and find alternatives as a first step. We eschew plastic bags and tie a string around our fingers to remember to take a paper or cloth bag, or take our groceries out of the store in the cart to be packaged at the car. Then we look to online recycling as an alternative to Waste Management, which still does its best to find markets for the waste we create. And then what?

The next best way to do something about the single-use plastic trash is by advocating for the new plastic recycling bills in the works in California and the nation. In California, there is one important bill called the California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Act AB 1080/SB 54 awaiting passage. You can look it up at and write our representatives. There is one important bill being introduced at Federal level – HB5845. This bill makes certain producers of products fiscally responsible for collecting, managing, and recycling or composting post-consumer use. All need the voices of people who care about the health issues as well as the pollution issues of plastic trash to rise up.

Now it is simply time for a readjustment of our thinking to look to the new ways we can be proud of avoiding getting the single-use containers, capturing the plastic waste, and recycling it into new containers, or even road surfaces, that will be even more effective. Let’s get creative together!

Shirley Freriks is a Grass Valley resident and leader of the local Elders Action/Elders Climate Action Networks.

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