The problems with plastic: Join us for a forum

Sustain Jefferson will hold a forum on the overuse of plastics and the problems of plastic pollution Friday, Jan. 11, at 7 p.m. at the Johnson Creek Community Center, 417 Union St., Johnson Creek.

Speakers will be Randy Frank, Watertown streets superintendent, and Sharon Ehrhardt, solid waste program assistant for Jefferson County, who will talk about recycling plastic and the problems caused by recent changes in worldwide markets for recyclable plastics. Short videos on the problem of overuse of plastics and ways to reduce plastic use will be shown followed by an open discussion.

Beginning at 6:30 p.m., the forum also will feature a display and sale of alternatives for common plastic products, including stainless steel drinking straws, beeswax sandwich wrap, bamboo handled toothbrushes, reusable produce bags, reusable food and container covers, toothpaste tablets and shampoo bars.

Plastics: Think before you buy

Corporations ultimately must be held responsible for the waste plastics they create. But in the meantime consumers need to think before they buy: Can this be recycled?

That was the message of Town of Ixonia recycling manager Vic Karaliunas when he spoke recently to Sustain Jefferson's monthly discussion group. The focus of the discussion was plastics recycling and ways to reduce our use of plastics at a time when the markets for recyclable plastics are dramatically changing and even disapearing.

China has almost completely stopped taking recyclable plastics from the U.S., Karaliunas said. It was initially outsourced to Vietnam and other Asian communities, but they also are losing interest in accepting waste plastics, he said.

He gave some advice to make plastics more desirable to recycling markets including taking the caps off plastic bottles so they can be compressed for shipping. Throw out the caps. Put only clean materials -- jars, cans, other containers, plastics, etc. -- into recycling bins. Envelopes with cellophane windows are not recyclable. Neither are those mailers padded with bubble wrap inside. If plastic wrap or packaging can be stretched it's good for recycling.

Plastics pollution picked up and reported

A sizable crowd of people, including an entire class of middle schoolers and a high school group, fanned out across Jefferson County in September when we joined forces with the international The Story of Stuff Project to pick up plastic waste polluting public spaces and report what we found to a global database. Volunteers collected and identified by brand name, product and material type all the plastics pollution they found. Then we reported our findings to the worldwide database. Our report revealed the most waste plastics found littering Jefferson County were Pepsi soda bottles, followed by McDonald's waste and Walmart bags. Candy bar wrappers also were noted in our report. Our collection and reporting project was part of an effort to reduce the use of plastics by holding companies responsible for the waste they produce. 

Much of the conversation about plastic pollution focuses of waste in the ocean. We've all see the heartbreaking images of a turtle stuck in a six-pack ring or a seabird with a stomach full of plastic. What is happening to our oceans is deeply worrying, but it's just one part of the story.

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