Plastics have become a part of everyday life and are found everywhere from computer parts to water bottles and sunglasses. Plastics provide some great benefits including being inexpensive to produce, lightweight and durable. Unfortunately, plastics can have a detrimental effect on our environment.

Plastics are separated out in 7 different categories depending on the types of materials the plastics are composed of. Here in Hudson County, Plastic Types 1 & 2 should be placed in your curbside recycling bin. Look for the “Recycle Triangle” which can normally be found on the bottom of plastic materials.

Type 1 plastics are composed of polyester (PET) and are most commonly used in consumer products such as water and soda bottles, peanut butter containers and salad dressing bottles. The light construction of Type 1 plastics means that they are single use and should be recycled after their single use (be sure to rinse these recyclables of any debris of food particles prior to placing them in your recycle bin!) Repeated use of Type 1 plastics would increase the risk of the growth of bacteria as well as leaching, which is the disintegration of the plastic into a liquid form. Once they reach the recycling center, Type 1 plastics are crushed and shredded into small flakes which can then be reprocessed to develop new PET bottles or can be spun into fibers which can be used in the production of textiles including carpets, life jackets, fleece garments and pillow stuffing.

Type 2 plastics are composed of High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) and include such products as butter containers, laundry detergent bottles, milk containers, and shampoo bottles. HDPEs are considered the safest form of plastic as well as the most commonly recycled type of plastic. These plastics should be also be rinsed out and free of any debris or food particles prior to being placed in a recycling bin. Type 2 plastics have a stiff plastic construction which makes them durable and weather-resistant. These plastics allow to their re-use as such products as picnic tables, waste bins and even plastic lumber.

All other types of plastics are currently not recyclable in Hudson County and should be placed with your household trash.

The Growing Problem

Plastics account for more than 12% of the municipal solid waste stream, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with only around 8% of plastics being recycled. Only a quarter of all Type 1 plastics are being recycled in the United States. Unfortunately, the remainder of these plastics wind up in the wrong places and have created effects on human health and the environment. Over 70% of deep-sea fish have ingested plastic. According to Waste 360, these problems include:

  • Nearly 1/3 of all plastics produced end up as litter, in the soil, or in oceans;
  • Around 50% of all plastics could be recovered using recycling systems currently available;
  • 90% of plastics are made from non-renewable fossil fuels;
  • It is projected that plastics will outnumber fish in terms of weight in oceans by 2050.
  • The equivalent of one garbage truck full of plastic is dumped into our oceans every minute which equals more than 8 million tons per year.

It is projected that this problem is expected to get even worse globally with expectations that the production of plastics is expected to double in the next 20 years and nearly quadruple by 2050.

How Do I Help?

We are glad that you asked! The quickest and easiest way is to properly recycle Type 1 and Type 2 plastics as part of regular household recycling. Remember to make sure that recyclables are rinsed and free of any food particles. Caps and lids should be removed from recyclables prior to being placed in the recycling bin. Plastic caps found on water and soda bottles are constructed of Type 5 plastics which are not recyclable. These caps can be disposed of in household garbage.

The next step is to reduce the use and dependency on single-use plastics. Here are some easy solutions to start:

  • Use a reusable bottle or mug for beverages such as water.
  • Purchase products such as laundry detergent in powder form which is packaged in cardboard rather than plastic bottles.
  • Stock up on reusable containers and wraps rather than using plastic bags or plastic wraps.
  • Utilize carbonation systems such as a Soda Stream which uses reusable bottles rather than single-use plastic bottles for those who enjoy carbonated water and soda.
  • Instead of packing single-use plastic cutlery in your lunch box, switch to reusable forks, knives and spoons.
  • Purchase loose fruits and vegetables instead of bagged produce- this avoids the use of plastic while allowing consumers to only purchase as much as they need so there is less food to go to waste.

Plastic Bags- Let’s Fix This Problem Together

100 billion single-use plastic bags are used annually in the United States. The average family accumulates 15 bags per visit to the grocery store. When disposed in a landfill, one single-use plastic bag will take anywhere from 20 to 1,000 years to degrade with the materials remaining toxic even after they break down. Worldwide, 10% of all plastic bags produced end up in the ocean.

If you have plastic shopping bags at home, they can be returned to your local supermarket to be properly recycled which keeps them out of the waste stream. In the long-term, make the switch to reusable shopping bags. In addition to their environmental benefits, they are also economically beneficial and save consumers the bag fees charged in local municipalities with single-use plastic bag bans.

The Final Straw

Plastic drinking straws may be small, but they are a big problem for the environment. 500 million drinking straws are used annually in the United States. These single-use plastic straws consist of Type 5 plastics which are not accepted in curbside recycling. If a plastic straw were to enter a recycling sorter, the straw’s light weight will not allow them to go through the machine but instead drop through sorting screens to end up with other materials to be disposed as trash. If sent to a landfill, a single-use plastic straw can take up to 200 years to degrade while releasing toxic chemicals throughout the process and even afterwards.

Seek out a sustainable alternative including steel straws, bamboo straws, hay straws, paper straws, a reusable water bottle with a straw, or no straw at all!

Plastics pose a major environmental challenge for our planet. But, taking some small steps to reduce the use of single-use plastics, we can make a big difference!

   

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