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Plastic Waste Reduction Heroes

Reduce, Replace, Reuse, Repurpose & Recycle

by Wendy Nadherny Fachon

Produced from fossil fuel, plastics and plastic waste are directly associated with climate change, and as more people realize this, more people take action. The fact that less than 15 percent of plastic packaging is recycled worldwide is a serious concern, according to As You Sow, one of many organizations uniting worldwide to promote corporate social responsibility in reducing single-use plastic packaging, containers and bags. Convenience and profit have been trashing the planet while incurring increasing costs in human health and environmental sustainability. So what are activists, organizations and eco-conscious businesses doing to help solve this problem?

Food server, Lori Rinkel, got permission from the manager of Tickets restaurant, in Middletown, to post a sign that says “Please consider going strawless! The ocean thanks you!” Rinkel does not put a straw in any drink ever that she serves. “If someone asks for a straw, I ask them if they really need it, and probably go overboard by telling them that it takes 200 years for that straw to decompose, and it never really does and that we use 500 billion straws a day in the U.S. alone. Then I usually tell them, ‘I am going to get fired over straws!’ The majority of my customers are thankful of the information, and I tell them ‘This is one simple thing you can do to help our environment, it is so easy.’”

Straws are among the top 10 items found during beach clean ups and can do so much harm to seabirds, turtles and other marine creatures. Green Drinks Newport, in partnership with Clean Ocean Access and The Last Straw, launched a campaign, #strawlessbythesea, on World Oceans Day in 2018. The campaigners updated Instagram with the corporate companies that are getting away from plastic straws, including McDonalds, Disney World and Starbucks, to name a few. As a result, people started saying “No straw, please,” when ordering water and drinks.

One year later, Green Drinks Newport organizer Kara DiCamillo announced the success of the campaign, “We’ll be celebrating that over 50,000 plastic straws PER MONTH have been eliminated from popular establishments and tourist destinations.” More than 30 businesses in the Newport area committed to stop offering straws and stirrers.

In the year of 2017, Americans used about 390 million plastic straws each day, according to market research firm, Freedonia Group. Restaurants can eliminate plastic straws by changing to paper straws or reusable straws… or by going “strawless.” Shari Bitsis, founder of Greening the Sphere in Warren, carries a set of eight reusable metal straws in her purse, along with two cleaning brushes.

Many companies have developed plastic waste reduction solutions for food service. Here are a few suppliers:
Compostable Plastic Ware
Disposable Wooden Utensils
Compostable Bamboo Dinnerware
Certified Compostable Plates and Clamshells
Paper, Sugarcane and Wheat Straw Containers, Plates and Bowls
Environmentally-Friendly, Recyclable, Compostable
Wholesale Takeout Products

Plastic water bottle use is another huge opportunity for waste reduction. The Earth Day Network reports that Americans purchase about 50 billion water bottles per year. Many households have installed water filters, and many people use refillable stainless steel water bottles. One Kent County resident sanitizes empty 100-ounce #1 PETE plastic water bottles with a solution of diluted hydrogen peroxide, loads the sturdy stackable bottles into his station wagon and then refills them with water from a local spring. The cost to fill a gallon jug is less than 50 cents at self-serve water stations managed by Simpson Spring. Simpson Spring, also the oldest bottling company in the country, makes soda, which it still bottles in glass, and recycles its own bottles. The spring water is tested twice weekly by an outside lab to assure the highest quality standards for purity and refreshment.

Creative recycler Bonnie Combs founded Bird Brain Designs to turn colorfully printed feedbags into reusable shopping bags, cosmetic bags, aprons and dog jackets. Plastic-coated bird seed bags, animal feed bags and brewery grain bags are not recyclable. Neither is package insulation padding made from shredded clothing. Combs is using the waterproof feedbag material to cover the padding in order to make seat cushions for use on the ground while camping or on bleachers at sporting events.

As marketing director for the Blackstone Heritage Corridor, Combs has been working with local bait and tackle shops and Audubon Society to promote the proper recycling of monofilament fishing line and spools. It takes 600 years for fishing line to break down in the environment, and line left behind entangles wildlife, is eaten by animals and is hazardous to boaters and swimmers. Bonnie repurposes plastic tennis ball containers into Fish Responsibly recycling canisters to collect pieces of fishing line. She punches a hole in the lid and beneath the lip of the container, and she attaches the top and bottom with a nylon zip tie. She affixes a label with the mailing address of Berkley Recycling, which recycles the material into Fish HabsTM that promote the growth of healthy fish populations. She also places a map of local recycling stations that will ship full canisters of scrap line to Berkely Recycling, 1900 18th St., Spirit Lake, IA 51360. offers more details.

Participating in the Plastic Film Recycling Challenge organized by Trex, schools in the Blackstone Valley compete against other schools in their district to recycle the most plastic film per capita. Trex manufactures composite decking and other building products. Trex never cuts down a single tree. It makes products from recycled materials, such as reclaimed wood, sawdust and single-use plastic packaging that one can not dispose of in a standard recycling bin. This includes grocery bags, bread bags, case overwrap, dry cleaning bags, newspaper sleeves, ice bags, ziploc bags, produce bags, bubble wrap… essentially any plastic that is stretchy. It must be clean, dry and free of food residue.

Trex will provide recycling bins to each school, and school volunteers weigh and record the amount of film collected, deliver it to a participating retailer and report the monthly collection total.The first place school receives a Trex bench, made from recycled plastic, and every participating school receives an award made from Trex decking boards. Search for “Trex T-R-E-X Recycling Challenge” online for more information

Readers are encouraged to share their plastic reducing, replacing, reusing, repurposing and recycling stories and ideas in the comment section below.

Wendy Fachon is the host of the Story Walking Radio Hour, a regular contributor for Natural Awakenings and a creator of environmental curriculum for The Empowerment Factory.

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