January 7, 2008

Week 29 Results: 2.6 oz. of plastic. Making a change.

This past Friday, I attended a planning meeting for Green Sangha’s 2008 Rethinking Plastics campaign. At that meeting, one of the members showed us some video footage of what happens to the plastic recycling that we put into our curbside bins. I knew that most of our plastic was shipped to China, but until seeing this heartbreaking video, I didn’t think much more about it. Please watch this short clip from Britain’s Sky News and then see how you feel about recycling plastic:

Click here to view the video on Youtube.

Yes, this story focuses on Britain’s plastic waste. But in the U.S., we also ship most of our plastic to China, causing health problems and pollution in our attempts to be “green.”

Since I started this project, I have tallied all of my plastic waste, recycling those items that are accepted in Oakland, SF, or Daly City, and holding onto the rest. From now on, I’m going to hold onto ALL of it, recyclable or not. If plastic recycling is such a dirty business, we ought to be taking care of it here at home instead of shipping it off to poorer countries with lower environmental standards.

My new commitment to hold onto all my plastic is similar to that of a new blogger who is collecting and tallying his waste, Dave Chameides at 365daysoftrash.com. He has vowed not to throw ANYTHING away for a year but to tally it all and figure out what it is and what can be done with it. He says, “Any waste that I generate that can be recycled, will also be saved. Recycling is better than ‘throwing away’ but it still takes energy and creates waste so I think accounting for recycling will be an important factor.” Perhaps the video above is another reason to hold onto all of it.

So, that said, here is the tally for this week, the first of 2008:

Non-recyclable items used this week but purchased before the plastic project began:

    • 1 Safeway ice bag. This ice was sitting in our freezer for months and months, and we finally used it up chilling a bottle of New Year’s Eve champagne.
  • 1 cap from a bottle of Safeway rubbing alcohol. See below.


Recyclable plastic bought before the plastic project began (although as mentioned above, they will not be recycled):

  • 1 bottle of Safeway rubbing alcohol (#2 plastic). Is it possible to find rubbing alcohol in glass or is it only available in plastic these days? And do we need it? The only thing I was using it for lately was in a homemade ant spray recipe. I could probably substitute vodka or grain alcohol. I can sterilize a needle for removing splinters with a match. My mom used to clean oral thermometers with alcohol, but I just use soap. Cuts and bruises can be cleaned with soap and water. Alcohol seems like a staple of home medicine cabinets, but do we actually need it?

New plastic waste.

    • 2 Refresh Endura single-use eye drop containers (#4 plastic). Are my eyes getting better? I haven’t been using as many containers of drops because I’ve just been lazy about putting them in at night. And so far, no traumatic cornea mornings. I’m just seeing how far I can press my luck, I think.
  • 2 plastic ties and 1 plastic tag from a bamboo scratching post purchased for the kitties. More on this item in a post later this week.


  • 1 plastic bag from inside a box of crackers. These were brought to our New Year’s Eve party by a friend, and I ate some.


  • 1 Wallace & Gromit cheese wrapper. Very cute. Also brought to the party by a friend. Of course I had some.


  • 1 plastic cork from a bottle of Boissonneau Chateau Moulin de Ferrand Bordeaux Blanc. This was the last bottle!


  • 1 cap from a glass bottle of Straus organic nonfat milk.


I want to welcome the new readers who have found their way over to Fake Plastic Fish from the 365 Days of Trash blog. I have a lot of exciting things to write about this week, including a trip to a landfill on Wednesday.

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14 years ago

I know that you posted this video a while ago, but I’ve been searching the web looking for info on where my recycling ends up, and this is one of the few useful sources I’ve found so far. Thank you SO MUCH for publicizing this – more people need to do so. It is more proof that we need to be conscious of the packaging surrounding the products we buy. That’s the real answer.

15 years ago

Holy *bleeping* crap! That video is so disturbing! Thanks for posting it, though. It’s an enlightening bit of reporting and helps me build my conviction. :)

If you don’t mind, I’d like to link to it on my site, too, so that the friends of mine that read my blog definitely see it. I’ll let everyone know that I snagged it from you, though, and mention how cool your new experiment is! :)

15 years ago

Hi Beth, Here is a link to a story about a planned Joint Venture in the UK to start keeping and recycling plastics in country rather than shipping it to China. It will take some time to implement, but good to know that an alternative is in the works. That is usually the reason why US recycling gets shipped to other countries…we don’t have the infrastructure or the industries to process it locally.

Good seeing you yesterday!

The Biscuit Queen
15 years ago

What an eye opener. Great site! I have started a blog as well http://www.avoidingplastic.blogspot.com
before I came upon your site. I like the idea of linking all these sites together and maybe trying to organize a largescale awareness project. We should remember that old mantra: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”. There is a reason “Reduce” is first. Until we start reducing our attempts at tackling this problem are going to be minimally effective at best. Is it alright if I link to your site?


Lynne Marie
15 years ago

thanks for the video. i think i have been using “oh, i recycle/compost/reuse” scapegoat tactics for the past 16 years or so. yes, all these things are wonderful, but, ultimately, do i need all this stuff that ends up in either trash, recycling, compost, or Freecycle? can i create alternatives with less waste?

it’s not just good enough to shop at the health food store and spend money and fill carts full of future “green” garbage. thanks to bloggers like you this year, i think that point finally hit head.

15 years ago

There is some good information on Co-op America’s web site about plastics recycling here (a 5MB pdf — see pp. 11, 13 table, & 24). Basically, there are no (U.S.) domestic facilities that recycle plastics #3-7. These types all go overseas, and often get melted down and used as boiler fuel or end up in unregulated landfills. Recycling plastics #1 & 2 is more profitable, and some reprocessing of these plastics takes place in the U.S., but there is no guarantee that plastics with this kind will not end up elsewhere.

Most advertising promoting plastics recycling is paid for by virgin plastics manufacturers. They want to create the (false) perception that the stuff they make is good for the environment because it can theoretically be turned into something else after its original use.

Here’s a little blurb consistent with the posted video (from the 1996 Berkeley Plastics Task Force Report):

“In addition, plastics are a major component of an international trade in discarded resources that has become a source of serious problems. Discarded materials that are collected in industrialized countries and shipped to third-world countries as recyclables are sometimes badly contaminated. Occasionally the contamination is hazardous waste. The countries that ship the materials rely on the often-weak regulatory climates, huge reservoirs of cheap labor, and desperate economies of the receiving countries. Greenpeace and other organizations have documented conditions at recycling facilities in countries that import this material and have found conditions to be hazardous and exploitive. In addition, Greenpeace found that exported plastics were very poorly sorted. In a seven-country survey, up to 50% of the discards shipped overseas were contaminated and had to be dumped, often in unlined, unmanaged sites. Little or no documentation has been found regarding the market stability or soundness of the products that these countries produce with plastic scrap. The ‘cradle to grave’ approach to waste management does not apply if the ‘grave’ is in another country.”

15 years ago

You know, I don’t know Beth. I need to do some more research. I know there are local plastic recyclers here in Salem. I know a couple who owns Agri-Plas in Brooks (near Salem) but I’m not sure they are the ones that handle my curbside. They do however take my friend’s plastic so you might try to contact a “local” recycling company (i.e. one that actually does it here in the US vs in China) and see if you can become their friend and take your household stuff to them. Not too helpful. Happy belated B-day!

15 years ago

Happy birthday, Beth Terry! You are an inspiration in many ways and just when I don’t think there’s anything else you can inspire me to (try to) do, you come up with something else. I have to sign in as “Anonymous” but I really am Axelle, and I wish you many happy returns of your birthday!

PS Thank you, terrible person, for the reminder.

15 years ago

Hi Beth … just to say that you don’t need rubbing alcohol. I’ve never had it in my first aid box (4 children, all the usual childhood accidents and ailments) – I don’t think many people do in the UK. As you say, there are alternatives which don’t involve plastic, but which will still protect your family’s health.

I hugely admire such determination and such attention to detail


Beth Terry
15 years ago

Hi Sunny. I don’t know what I’ll do with it yet. The idea right now is just to keep it from poisoning small children in China. Do you have any suggestions? I do keep meaning to display and photograph my 6-months non-recyclable plastic waste that I’ve collected, but every time I think of doing it I get overwhelmed by the idea of arranging it all. I know I could just dump it out in a pile, but that’s not really my style!

15 years ago

Hi Beth-

I went to China in 2006 and you would be amazed at the amount of pollution there. My friend was living in Shanghai for 2 years and during her entire time there she said that she never saw a blue sky (b/c of all the smog). One of the ironic things is that none of the babies there wear diapers… Nope, they have have little outfits with a slit in the butt so you see all of these babies with their little butts exposed!

15 years ago

Wow, you’re totally getting more hardcore with this! Love it! You’ll be happy to know that, with my new no-plastic pledge, I’ve found glue in a tin can and a bulk section that lets me use my own cloth produce bags for beans and grains and stuff… and no more organic butter unless it comes in foil, not a plastic tub. It’s absolutely INSANE how plastic sneaks its way into just about everything, though… can’t wait to keep reading your blog when mine finishes up in another couple months!

15 years ago

Love this post – but where’s the video..?



15 years ago

Did you see Envirowoman’s plastic accumulation for all of 2007? Just 1 lb, 3 oz! I wrote about it here — Hope that inspires you :)

15 years ago

wow. i had no idea. i was just thinking this morning that i need to stop buying triple washed lettuce in the plastic container, because i put a few of those in recycling a week. thanks for the video; it will push me harder to not be tricked by convenience.

15 years ago

Hello, Beth! Greetings from NYC. I’ve recently started reading your blog and have found it very helpful in my pursuit of similar goals. These endeavors can seem overwhelming but when we find others on the same journey it’s always uplifting. In light of you finding the other guy’s blog who and my having heard of others
doing the same thing, I’m finding myself wanting to change my ideas that I’ve had to keep my garbage for the year. I think I can still do that and have it be an eye-opening experience for myself but what can we all do together that will reach a wider audience?
Could we create some kind of national protest against plastic? I’m not webpage-saavy but could we create a website that everyone who’s interested in joining the
movement could be a part of? I’ve thought about writing to companies and notifying them of my intent to boycott their items due to the nature of the waste their products produce. There is an article in this month’s National Geographic magazine about e-waste and where it goes, who deals with it… etc. It’s a very interesting article and brought up the subject of manufacturer responsibility. Perhaps this is something we can work on. In the U.S. we have some of the lowest regard for matters like this, surprise, surprise.
Could we work on getting Congress to pass sticter laws? I know we could. I’m just not sure how to get a ball like this rolling. Any thoughts?

Green Bean
15 years ago

It recently dawned on me as well that plastics are shipped overseas for recycling. What the hell? My husband wondered if we’d be better of throwing it out than recycling it – especially with the growing island of plastic in the Pacific. Obviously, the best thing is to cut plastic which is why your blog is great. Give’s me ideas. :) Thanks.

terrible person
15 years ago

So, isn’t today, like, your 43rd birthday? Shouldn’t all loyal FPF readers be wishing you many happy returns of the day?

Just wondered.

15 years ago

That video just breaks my heart– and renews my desire to drastically reduce plastic in my own life!

This weeks photo made me giggle. The Safeway ice bag asks “Is one bag enough?” Ummm…. YES.

Juli in NYC

15 years ago

So I’m confused. Your just going to keep your plastic waste. Is this just for a visual or what do you ultimately plan to do with it?

15 years ago

I knew that our electronics are shipped to China but I had no idea about plastics. I am disgusted and have a new dilemma. I live in a condo complex in south Orange County and we do not have recycling bins here. I contacted the trash company our city contracts with and they came out and told me that they could replace 1/2 of our trash bins with recycling bins and it would save us money, he just had to check the contract. Well the contract between the city and the trash company prohibits multi-family recycling. I had wanted to change that but now, not so sure that is a fight worthy of taking on. While I loath the idea of sending plastic to the landfill shouldn’t it be polluting our own backyard first before someone else’s who is being taken advantage of? What about buying products that are made of recycling plastic – that is supporting what is happening in China. Oh my, I have a headache! Here’s an article I found, it seems dated but confirms the problem at least used to happen with California plastics (I am going to see if I can find out if anything has changed):

15 years ago

Hi, I thought of you when I read today’s Scary-go-round comic, and thought I’d pass it along. I don’t know if the author is going to have a serious environmental message or, because it is a comic after all, if things will go wackily awry.

15 years ago

Thanks for the video, Beth. Between that and my missing our last bi-weekly recycle pickup, I have realized I need to cut way down on not just my “trash” output, but my recycle output as well.