The world’s first synthetic blend polymer was invented in 1869 as a substitute for the use of natural substances such as ivory, horn, linen, or tortoiseshell. In 1907, the first fully synthetic plastic was created – Bakelite (American Chemical Society National Historic Chemical Landmarks, 2015). The creation of plastics has revolutionized history by decreasing constraints imposed by the scarcity of using natural resources. As a consequence over the last 60 years, the production of plastics has increased exponentially, generating several environmental problems including overuse and pollution from improper disposal or reuse (Science History Institute, 2018).
Plastics are manufacturer’s number one choice for product creation as it is economical, easy-molded, and lightweight. Approximately 4% of the world’s oil and gas production is used as feedstock for plastics with an additional 3% to 4% used during the manufacturing processes (Hopewell et al., 2009). Single-use plastics are not intended by manufacturers to be used for a long period of time, meaning their lifespan continues long after consumer usage. Sadly, the majority of products created annually by manufacturers are single-use plastic products which are discarded within the same year by the consumer (Hopewell et al., 2009). As plastics are relatively new, scientists can only make assumptions on their decomposition rate, life-span, and their effect on our environment as a whole. It is estimated single-use plastics take hundreds of years to decompose (Teegarden, 2004).
Recycling is currently the main action available to reduce plastic impacts on the environment. Recycling programs began in the 1970’s to help combat this issue. Recycling helps decreases oil usage, carbon dioxide emissions, and the quantities of waste requiring landfilling. Recycling seems like the most logical decision to combat our plastic use, however, only certain numbers of plastics can be accepted in a single-stream recycling program. The recycling market for plastics faces some challenges when it comes to reprocessing plastics. Plastics can only be recycled into new products if they are sorted into their numbered categories first. However, with the quick evolution of new plastics over the decades, our current technologies have difficulties sorting, and advancements are costly and difficult to keep up. Loraas is Saskatchewan’s waste and recycling specialist and we are here to help. Here are three tips reduce your single-use plastic consumption:
- Re-Educate about Plastics
- Unfortunately, there is no simple, “Plastics Recycling Rule.” We have all heard the saying, “To recycle plastics, look for the recyclable symbol on the bottom with a #1 to #7 and toss them in your cart!” However, this rule isn’t entirely true for all the plastics. Even if a plastic item displays the recycle symbol alone, not all plastics can be recycled. That recycling symbol indicates that your product is made of a certain percentage of recycled content. Curbside recycling programs do accept most plastics numbered 1 thru 7, however, please check periodically on what can and cannot go in the cart. Plastics must be separated correctly into their numbered categories before they can be made into new products as different types of plastic are not compatible with one another. Check here for what Loraas Recycle can and cannot accept!
- Bring an alternative to plastic with you.
- Most products we buy come packaged in multiple types of plastics all combined into one. However, there are usually alternative solutions to those products that are better for the environment. Try using a reusable bag at the grocery store rather than opting for the $0.05 plastic bags. Carry around your own reusable utensils and water bottle rather than using plastic disposable options. Slow down and dine in! If you do go out bring your own containers instead of asking for a takeout container. To date, Loraas has saved 95,000 water bottles from entering the recycling system by installing a filtered water filling station.
- Understand plastic’s lifecycle.
- All plastics are created differently using different blends of materials – meaning all plastics will have different lifespans. Certain plastics are made to be strong to withstand chemicals, while others are designed to be light for shipping purposes. For example, #2 high-density polyethylene plastic (HDPE) is used to create oil pails or milk jugs. This dense plastic has the ability to be recycled 12 times over before its end-of-life. While #4 low-density polyethylene (LDPE) is a lightweight, stretchable plastic used to create grocery and sandwich bags. LDPE can only be recycled on average once when accepted before it cannot be made into a new product. Understanding your plastics and their lifecycle may help you choose the plastic products that you buy.
These are just a few tips from your friends at Loraas Recycle. We are interested to know how you cut down on single-use plastic products in your life. Let us know on one of our social media channels (@LoraasYXE). Together we can create new habits and reduce single-use plastics while ensuring your waste ends up in the correct place!
Hopewell, J., Dvorak R., and Kosior E. 2009. Plastics Recycling: Challenges and opportunities. Accessed at: http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/364/1526/2115.short. Accessed on: 31 July 2018. American Chemical Society National Historic Chemical
Landmarks. 1993. Bakelite: The world’s first synthetic plastic. Accessed at: https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/whatischemistry/landmarks/bakelite.html.. Accessed on: 2 August 2018.
Science History Institute. 2018. The history and future of plastics. Accessed at: https://www.sciencehistory.org/sites/default/files/history-of-plastics.pdf. Accessed on: 2 August 2018. Teegarden, D. 2004.
Polymer Chemistry: Introduction to an indispensable science. Accessed at: https://books.google.ca/books?id=0qFQ5OuKoy8C&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false. Accessed on: 2 August 2018.