Costa Rica Plans to Eliminate Single Use Plastics. Why can’t the U.S.?

Day 148 – Costa Rica hopes to be the first country to eliminate single use plastics. In 2020, President Carlos Alvarado Quesada announced the ambitious plan at his inauguration. He wants to achieve this goal this year, 2021. It does seem like an impossible achievement, but Costa Rica has proven time and time again that they are committed to finding ways to protect and preserve their country. Costa Rica has been an example to the world by reversing deforestation and doubling its forest cover from 26% in 1984 to more than 52% in 2020. They also get almost 99% of their energy from renewable sources. The country uses resources like rivers, volcanos, geothermal, solar, and wind power to make energy.

The plan to eliminate single use plastics consists of 5 strategic axes:

  1. Municipal incentives
  2. Policies and institutional guidelines for suppliers
  3. Replacement of single-use plastic products
  4. Research and development
  5. Investment in strategic initiatives

In June of last year, the country officially launched its national strategy to replace the consumption of single use plastics for renewable and water-soluble alternatives. All single-use items must be recyclable or biodegradable. Petroleum based single-use items will not be allowed in Costa Rica.

So, why wouldn’t this work in the U.S.?

In an article published by NPR on May 18, 2021, a report by Australia’s Minderoo Foundation is discussed. The report offers one of the fullest accountings, to date, of the companies behind the production of single-use plastics. The study identifies 20 companies as the source of 55% of the world’s single-use plastic waste, while the top 100 companies account for more than 90%.

“At the top of what the foundation calls its “Plastic Waste Makers Index” is the energy giant Exxon Mobil, followed by the Dow Chemical Co. and China’s Sinopec. The report found that Exxon Mobil was responsible for 5.9 million metric tons of such waste in 2019, while Dow and Sinopec contributed 5.6 million and 5.3 million, respectively. Taken together, the three companies account for 16% of all waste from single-use plastics such as bottles, bags and food packaging, according to the report.”NPR

Big business and big money is preventing the U.S. from making any headway in the fight to eliminate single use plastics.

“The report also traced the money invested in the production of single-use plastics, finding that 20 institutional asset managers hold shares worth close to $300 billion in the parent companies that make up the foundation’s rankings. The top three investors are U.S.-based Vanguard Group, BlackRock and Capital Group, which according to the report have an estimated $6 billion invested in the production of single-use plastics.” – NPR

Until, the U.S. can get everyone on board (government, industry, and consumers), we will never be able to accomplish what Costa Rica plans to do and will most likely be successful in doing, saying goodbye to single-use plastics forever.

Tomorrow, celebrating National Learn About Composting Day.

Does Infinitely Recyclable Plastic Exist?

Day 138 – Wouldn’t it be amazing if companies were responsible for the products they manufactured? We’re not just talking about in the beginning, at the moment of purchase, but at the end, as well. The consumer needs help to figure out how to responsibly dispose of their “stuff” and manufactures are nowhere to be found. Unfortunately, more times than not, the consumer is left to navigate the confusing world of recycling and for those that don’t have the time and patience, the landfill seems to be the only option.

It is cheaper for manufacturers to use virgin resin (new plastic) then it is to use recycled plastic. Add the fact that in many countries there are no rules or regulations in place to steer companies away from single use plastics. Combine that with zero infrastructure to deal with the absurd amount of plastics flooding waste management facilities and you have a recipe for disaster.

Thankfully, science is coming to the rescue.

“A multidisciplinary team from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has created a plastic that can be disassembled at a molecular level using an acidic solution. Then, it can be reassembled with a new color, texture, and shape, again and again. Unlike traditional plastic, which can only be recycled two or three times at most, this material, called poly(diketoenamine), or PDK, is infinitely recyclable.” – Earth911

Even though the initial creation of PDK is expensive to manufacture, it is significantly less expensive to recycle this type of plastic compared to the very popular, PET and HDPE plastics. Recycled PDK will even be less expensive than virgin plastic, making it very appealing to manufactures.

While it’s helpful to have plastics that are infinitely recyclable, we also need to hold companies accountable for the products they produce. The responsibility can longer be placed solely on the consumer. We need to start supporting companies with take back programs and trade in options. By supporting these companies we are making it very clear that we are tired for carrying the burden and need other companies to step up and create a plan to help the planet.

Tomorrow, products on Amazon that are environmentally friendly.

Saying No is the New Yes

Day 83 – Did you know that by saying no, you are saying yes to the environment? It may sound confusing, but it’s rather quite simple.

When you say no to the plastic utensils added to your take out order, because you know you have utensils at home, or you have packed your own reusable flatware, you are saying yes to the environment.

When you say no to the extra condiments served in those tiny plastic cups, because you know you have plenty of ketchup and mayo at home, you are saying yes to the environment.

When you say no to the complimentary toothbrush and tiny tube of toothpaste at your bi-yearly visit to the dentist, because you have switched to a bamboo toothbrush (a topic for another post) and have a large recyclable tube of toothpaste at home, you are saying yes to the environment.

When you say no to the plastic grocery bag, even when you forget your reusable bags at home, you are saying yes to the environment.

When you say no to the plastic piggy bank that came with the opening of your child’s new savings account, because you know it will be broken in a matter of days, if not hours, and end up in the trash, you are saying yes to the environment.

When you say no to all those things that you know you really don’t need, especially the plastic stuff, you are saying yes to the environment.

It’s not difficult to do and no one will think less of you. It’s up to you to remember and follow through. Just say NO! You can even throw in a no thank you, if it makes you feel better.

Tomorrow, we all need heroes.

National Geographic: 133 years old and still going strong

Day 27 – On January 27, 1888, National Geographic was founded in Washington D.C. Its purpose was for “the increase and diffusion of geographical knowledge.”

As a kid, I had a subscription to National Geographic. Sadly, I was not a big reader and spent most of my time looking at all the beautiful pictures. I dreamed of working for National Geographic one day. I figured I would probably have to be a photographer, because I was not the best writer.

Fast forward 35 years, I’m still dreaming of being a National Geographic photographer and I’m still enjoying the National Geographic magazine. The only difference, I’m reading a few more articles now. And it’s those articles that have given me a glimpse into the vast world around me. Giving me a window into places and people, I may never have a chance to see for myself.

National Geographic has also been a wonderful resource in my journey to a more sustainable lifestyle. They have covered every topic imaginable when it comes to having a more environment friendly way of living.

Here are a few of my favorite articles:

  1. You Can Help Turn the Tide on Plastic. Here’s How
  2. How People Make Only a Jar of Trash a Year
  3. Closing the circle on waste
  4. The business of nature
  5. Do You Know How to “Go Green”?

So, on this National Geographic Day, I encourage you to spend a little time reading one (or many) of their great articles and be sure to check out the amazing pictures.

Tomorrow, a clock that everyone should keep an eye on.

Bubble Wrap: Friend or foe

Day 25 – Happy Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day! In 1956, Marc Chavannes and Alfred Fielding put two shower curtains together and created air bubbles between the two curtains. They thought they were on to something and decided to move forward with the idea. Their creation went on to be wall paper!

Well, the wall paper was not a big hit and eventually the product evolved into what we know today as Bubble Wrap. For 60 years this squishy, air filled plastic has been protecting our most fragile possessions. Not to mention, its has been delighting children and adults alike. Whether, you take a more meticulous method by popping each individual bubble or create an explosive sound by stomping on it with your feet, there is no denying that Bubble Wrap is entertaining.

Nowadays, the Bubble Wrap is not as popular and has been replaced with air pillows and brown paper. However, if you find yourself in possession of this creatively engineered piece of plastic, be sure to use it wisely. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Recycle the Bubble Wrap with your plastic bags, of course, after you have enjoyed every single bubble.
  2. Hold on to the Bubble Wrap for the next time you need to ship or store something delicate.
  3. Share your Bubble Wrap. There are plenty of people moving and in need of protective coverings.

Whatever you decide to do with your Bubble Wrap just don’t throw it away!

Tomorrow, a paper product that we take for granted, but could not imagine our life without it.

Produce Bags: Sad to say it took this long

Day 13 – When I think back to how many produce bags I have used and how many of those bags ended up in the trash, it makes me angry. Why did something so easy as purchasing reusable bags, take so long? There really is no good excuse. There’s not even a bad excuse.

There are so many choices to choose from and the cost is relatively low. I purchased 15 mesh produce bags (in 3 sizes) for $10.99. They are washable, see through and have tare weight tags. So, you don’t get charged for the extra weight. Between my husband and I, I don’t see us being big enforcers of the tare weight. The mesh bags are so light, I can’t imagine there is a huge expense incurred if the tare weight is not subtracted. Whatever your preference may be, the option is there if you would like to use it.

It’s now quite refreshing to open the produce drawers and not see plastic bags overrunning the space. Many a time I would have to battle with those bags. Tearing them open due to the knot I created to prevent any produce from falling out and then the struggle to get all that plastic back into the drawer, so it wasn’t sticking out once closed. Yep, it was a really pain.

Well, the battle is over and I would like to think I won this round. The planet thanks me and I think the produce is much happier, too!

Tomorrow, old smoke detectors and the challenge to dispose of them properly.

Plastics: Just avoid them

Information from the NOAA Marine Debris Program

Day 11 – It seems like an easy task, but there is nothing easy about avoiding plastic. It is everywhere and I just don’t mean in the packaging and products we buy. Plastic is in the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. Microplastics are very tiny pieces of plastic, not even visible to the naked eye, that are permeating every corner of this planet. It just doesn’t seem to be an overwhelming problem, it is a gargantuan problem.

When I set out to find another option for my recyclables, instead of using the city’s program, I reached out to a few groups and organizations. One person I contacted was my alderman. His office got back to me with a lengthy email. It was very informative, but it agreed that the city’s program was not good and had countless issues. I was directed to various articles that stated this fact and opened my eyes a little wider to the problems plaguing Chicago’s recycling program. This was all very disheartening, but I was encouraged to attend a Green Council meeting to find out how the ward was addressing the issue.

The 47th Ward Green Council is convened by 47th Ward Alderman Matt Martin and led by ward residents to direct environmental policy and organize local initiatives that promote environmental education and stewardship. – As posted on their Facebook Page

So, on December 3rd I attended the meeting. I signed up to be in the breakout room discussing waste. I ended up sharing my frustration with the city’s recycling program. One woman simply told me that I needed to avoid bringing single-use plastics into my home. “Just avoid them”, three simple words that seem almost impossible to comprehend. However, I heard what she was saying and I soon got busy on how I could start separating my life from plastic.

Throughout this year I will be sharing how my family is removing single-use plastic from our lives. It’s not going to happen overnight, but it’s a challenge we are ready to take on.

If you would like more information on the 47th Ward Green Council, be sure to sign-up for their monthly newsletter. I also encourage you to see what your ward, town, village or neighborhood is doing to be more environmentally friendly.

Tomorrow’s topic will be trash bags. The problem of adding more trash to your trash.

Plastic Bags: They’re still here

Day 8– It’s crazy to think that the inventor of the plastic bag, Swedish engineer, Sten Gustaf Thulin, created them in 1959 to save the planet. The bags were developed as an alternative to paper bags, which were considered bad because they resulted in trees being chopped down. Fast forward 62 years and they are not saving the planet, but causing extreme damage to the environment.

Eight states have banned the use of plastic bags – California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon and Vermont. Fourteen other states have adopted laws to protect the use of plastic bags. A Politico article, written in January 2020, explains why plastic bags are not going anywhere, anytime soon. It all comes down to money. Making plastic bags is a big business and those involved in their production are making sure they stick around, even though they are harmful to the environment.

In Chicago, there is no ban, but a fee is applied to your purchase when accepting a plastic bag. Most of us bring along our reusable shopping bags on our trips to the store to avoid using the plastic bags. However, it seems almost impossible to keep these plastic bags out of your household, no matter how hard you try. They find there way in, oneway or another. This pandemic has made it even harder to avoid them. Many stores are not allowing your reusable bags from home.

So, what to do with those plastic bags? Some will use them to line their waste baskets at home or use them to pick up their pet’s waste. The unfortunate thing with those uses is that they end up in a landfill, where they can take hundreds of years to decompose. Another option is to drop them off at a plastic bag recycling kiosks. Many stores offer these drop-offs. My go to places are Target and Jewel.

It appears that these programs are legitimate. However, the success of the program depends on the actions of each store and their handling of the plastic bags. I would like to think that these companies are doing the right thing and providing a program that does exactly what it says it will do, recycle plastic bags.

Did you know those plastic bag kiosks except more than just grocery store plastic bags? Here is everything they except:

  1. Paper towel / Toilet Paper plastic bags
  2. Bread Bags
  3. Air Pillows (plenty of these arrive in my Amazon purchases)
  4. Case wrapping (water bottles, Gatorde, etc)
  5. Food Storage Bags (sandwich, storage and freezer bags)
  6. Produce bags
  7. Shopping bags
  8. Plastic shipping envelopes (remove labels)
  9. Cereal box bags
  10. Anything with How2Recycle Label stating plastic bag

Between the composting and keeping a lot of these plastic bags out of the garbage, we have reduced our household waste immensely. We went from two garbage bags a week, to one bag, every 9-10 days. Not too bad, but I know we can do better. I keep a bag under the kitchen sink where all our plastic bags (of all kinds) end up. Once, I have plenty collected I drop them off on my next visit to Target or the grocery store.

It’s great that these programs exist, but ultimately we need to find ways to avoid these plastic bags. Throughout this year, I will discuss how my family is making changes to keep these bags, in whatever form, out of our house.

Tomorrow, we’ll look a little closer at how2recycle and how their labels are taking the guess work out of recycling.

Chicago Recycling: We can do better!

Day 4 – Filling our designated indoor recycle container twice a week and bringing it out to the blue bin has been our practice for years. We thought we were helping and making a difference. Little did we know that it was not making a big impact, or any kind of impact, for that matter. I knew Chicago’s recycling program was not great, but I was definitely in denial as to how bad it really was. As I dug a little deeper, I found that Chicago ranks as the worst major city in the United States for recycling rates in residential areas, with less than 9 percent of waste being recycled. The program is beyond flawed and the solutions do not seem easy to correct.

If you want to read the Better Government Association‘s report on Chicago’s recycling program, click HERE.

So, I was on a mission to find other options. I found a plethora of organizations that will recycle a variety of hard to recycle items. However, it took a little extra digging to find a place that will except my blue bin recyclables. I came across the Resource Center and their North Park Village drop-off location was not too far from home.

North Park Village Recycling Station – 5801 N. Pulaski Road, Chicago, IL 60646 (Hours: 10am-4pm daily)

They accept cardboard and food packaging (made from cardboard), newspapers, magazines, white paper, office paper and shredded paper, metal (tin cans), aluminum, brown and yellow glass, green and blue glass, clear glass (no windows, drinking glasses, nothing “treated”), plastics #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #7.

In future posts, I’ll discuss the need to find other options and not depend on recycling programs. However, for now, I have found a partner and it’s time to get my recyclables in order!

Tomorrow, holiday cards and their afterlife.