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The Problem with Plastics

problem with plastics 1
Its kind of a love/hate relationship we have with plastics

Plastic is an amazing thing. Invented in 1907 and perfected during the first half of the 20th century, plastic hit the market in full force in the post WWII era. The photo above from a 1950s Life Magazine article touted the advent of “Throw-Away” living and promised how it would free us from the burden of household chores. Plastic is durable, cheap, stain resistant, and light. We use it in so many ways, from airplanes to eyeglasses. Its durability is one of plastic’s attractions, but it also causes some serious problems related to disposal. That “Throw-Away” lifestyle has come at a significant cost to the environment and health.

By the Numbers. It is said that every piece of plastic ever made still exists on the planet today. An estimated 6,300 million metric tonnes, or 90.5% of all plastic waste ever manufactured, has never been recycled. Americans only recycle about 9% of the plastics used. Whereas in Europe, the plastic recycling rate is 30%. This unrecycled plastic has ended up in landfills, incinerators, or floating free and polluting the environment. All that plastic will last long after its useful life has ended. It takes 450 years for a plastic bottle to decompose in a landfill.

More numbers, because we love them. And it takes a lot of energy to make all the plastic we use. In the US plastic manufacturing consumes 12 million barrels of oil each year in the production of 30 billion plastic bags. Between 8-10% of the nation’s oil supply is used during the manufacturing process of plastics and it is predicted that plastics production will consume 20% of the world’s oil production by the year 2050. Nearly half of the 400 million tons of plastic produced worldwide each year is destined for single use items (e.g., straws, cups, bottles, bags) that have an average useful life of only 10-15 minutes before they become part of the waste stream. For example, single use plastic bags like those from the grocery store are only used for an average of 12 minutes!

Plastic in the oceans. 8 million metric tons of plastic waste flows into the oceans every year. 80% of the plastic waste entering the oceans is from land-based sources, washed into the ocean after it is washed into rivers and streams. Plastic released at sea from fishing, shipping, and other maritime activities accounts for only 20% of the plastic entering the ocean.

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Animals get entangled in ocean plastics and they ingest it along with the toxics that adsorb to it. It has been estimated that each year plastic waste is killing one million seabirds, 100,000 marine mammals, large numbers of sea turtles and sharks, and countless fish. Nearly half of the world’s most important fish stocks for human consumption have been reported to contain plastic.

Microplastics, tiny fragments causing big problems. Microplastics are tiny fragments of plastic that are less than 5 mm in length. Some microplastics, like microbeads, are purposely manufactured while other microplastics are the result of the degradation of larger plastic debris. Ocean plastics eventually break down into microplastics, which have been found literally everywhere in the ocean where they have been looked for. On some beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii, as much as 15 percent of the sand is actually grains of microplastic. When consumed by marine organisms these microscopic pieces of plastic can cause physical damage and release toxins. Plastics have a natural affinity for toxicants and acts as a toxic conveyor belt, sponging up pollutants transferring it to everything that eats it.

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Plastics on our plates. Not only are marine organisms being directly impacted, humans may be impacted by consuming contaminated fish and shellfish. Research on the impacts of human consumption of microplastics through the food chain is growing but little is known about the impact on human health. Recent research conducted in the Salish Sea has shown that small plastics are widespread along shorelines and that filter feeding organisms like mussels, clams, and oysters are contaminated by plastics they have ingested from the surrounding waters.

What to do, what to do? Reduce your use of plastics, especially single use plastics! Adopt some “simple swaps” to reduce single use plastics in your life. Carry your own water bottle instead of using single-use plastic water bottles. Bring reusable shopping bags instead of using plastic grocery bags. Bring your own cutlery when you are eating away from home instead of relying on plastic cutlery. Use your reusable coffee cup instead of buying a single use cup. These simple habits can have a big impact when included in our daily routine. Plastics are all around us in our daily lives, so it can seem like a daunting task to reduce plastics in our lives. Just think of it as a journey to transition away from a “Throw Away” lifestyle to one that is better for our environment and health.

Sources:

Addressing Land-based Pollution
https://www.unenvironment.org/explore-topics/oceans-seas/what-we-do/addressing-land-based-pollution

Fact Sheet: Single Use Plastics
https://www.earthday.org/2018/03/29/fact-sheet-single-use-plastics/

Geyer, R., Jambeck, J.R., and Lavender Law, K. 2017. Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made. Science Advances 19 Jul 2017. Vol. 3, no. 7, e1700782. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700782 https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/advances/3/7/e1700782.full.pdf

Guess What’s Showing Up In Our Shellfish? One Word: Plastics
https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/09/19/551261222/guess-whats-showing-up-in-our-shellfish-one-word-plastics

The Impact of Microplastics on Food Safety: the Case of Fishery and Aquaculture Products
http://www.fao.org/in-action/globefish/fishery-information/resource-detail/en/c/1046435/

Microplastics in Fisheries and Aquaculture
http://www.fao.org/3/a-i7677e.pdf

The Ocean Conference-Factsheet: Marine Pollution
https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/Ocean_Factsheet_Pollution.pdf

Planet or Plastic
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/planetorplastic/

Plastic Bag Consumption Facts
https://conservingnow.com/plastic-bag-consumption-facts/

UNEP. 2018. Single-use plastics: A Roadmap for Sustainability. https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/25496/singleUsePlastic_sustainability.pdf?isAllowed=y&sequence=1

What are Microplastics
https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/microplastics.html

1bag at a time
https://1bagatatime.com/learn/plastic-bags-petroleum/

 

The Skagit Plastic Reduction and Recycling Coalition is a partnership between Friends of Skagit Beaches, Skagit County Solid Waste, and the Washington Department of Ecology. We are working to educate Skagit County residents on the issues of plastic waste in the environment and involve them in taking action to avoid single-use plastics and recycle plastic right.

The Friends of Skagit Beaches Plastics Project is funded by a grant from the Washington Department of Ecology with additional support from Skagit County Solid Waste Division.

The Dangers of Wishcycling

plastics project march blog post

End recycling contamination in Skagit County!


The Skagit Plastic Reduction & Recycling Coalition is determined to help Skagitonians reduce reliance on single-use plastics AND recycle plastic correctly. That last bit is important for a lot of reasons.

I’m an environmentalist. I recycle!” Ever since the first Earth Day in 1970, recycling in America has grown to represent the starting point for environmental stewardship. If you care about our planet, you recycle. But sometimes we want so badly to ensure all the plastics we use gets recycled that we put things into our recycling bins that end up making the whole lot unrecyclable.

Wishcycling. Have you ever wondered if a particular kind of plastic packaging is recyclable and just put it in the bin, assuming either it would be recycled or it would get ‘sorted’ out? That’s wishcycling and it causes contamination of the recycling waste stream. And no one wants contamination of the recycling waste stream! Recycling contamination is a significant problem, resulting in loads of recyclable plastics ending up in landfills. Unfortunately, this happens a lot because many of us put items that are not recyclable in the bins, or we fail to rinse recyclable plastics. In other words, we have become wishful, but kind of lazy, at the same time. Ouch.

Plastics recycling contamination. The plastics recycling process generally includes recyclables being sorted, bundled, and transferred to a recycler to undergo the process of breaking the material down so it can be made into new products. But if those shipments of recyclables contain a lot of material that is not recyclable, then the process of recycling is made much harder or even not feasible, resulting in the whole lot being disposed of rather than recycled. Recycling contamination has become such a big problem that China will no long accept plastics and other materials for recycling from the US and other countries around the world. China placed stringent requirements for levels of contamination that are significantly lower than what we currently see in the US plastic recycling stream.

It’s time for a recycling reboot.

What’s recyclable? Good question with a more complex answer than you would think. Plastic recycling is dependent on two things: the recyclability of the plastic item and the market for recyclable plastics. Recently, the market for recyclable plastics has changed dramatically because of China’s decision to stop taking recyclable plastics from the United States due to excessive contamination of the recycling waste stream.

So, what’s recyclable? In Skagit County, you have two options for recycling plastics: you have curbside recycling (generally provided by Waste Management) with a single recycling bin where you put all recyclables (plastics, glass, metal, and paper – aka comingled recycling) or you take your recyclables to the Skagit County transfer station, managed by Skagit County Solid Waste Division, where there are separate bins for different types of recyclables, including plastics.

Currently, in Skagit County:
Curbside recycling of plastics accepts clean bottles, jars, jugs, and tubs.
Transfer station plastic recycling accepts clean bottles and jugs, but not jars or tubs.

Just remember the SHAPE of the container is what’s important, not the number in the triangle. And rinse containers to remove food residue (they don’t have to be sparkling…just rinsed). Also, remove lids and never put your recyclables in plastic bags as both items can become stuck in the machinery at the recycling plant causing costly downtime.

Don’t even THINK about putting any other plastics in your recycling bins. If in doubt, throw it out. We know it’s painful, but if you aren’t sure a plastic item is recyclable, then do not put it in your recycling bin. Doing so could contaminate the recycling waste stream. It’s time for all of us to reboot our recycling habits and recycle only accepted materials, so we don’t contaminate the recycling stream and send valuable recyclables to the landfill.
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Download a flyer about the most common recycling contaminants to keep out of your bins at https://recycleoftenrecycleright.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Most-Common-Contaminants-Poster.pdf.

More details and current information can be found at the Waste Management website at http://wmnorthwest.com/skagitcounty/recycling.html.

If you take your plastic recycling to the transfer station, you can download a copy of their guidelines at https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/PublicWorksSolidWaste/main.htm.

 

Refuse Single-Use Plastic in 2019!

2019 in sand

Resolve to Refuse Single-Use Plastic in 2019!

Okay, we know that New Year’s Resolutions can be tricky. But you’ve already resolved to reduce your plastic waste by taking the Plastic Waste Reduction Pledge in 2018. Remember? So what better time to double-down on your efforts than the beginning of a New Year?

Let’s start with four really easy steps. You’re probably already taking them some of the time. Let’s resolve to take these steps EVERY DAY of 2019.

  1. Use reusable shopping bags. Plastic bags are ubiquitous on beaches and in the oceans. They are ingested by whales and turtles and entangle birds and other wildlife. They are the second deadliest ocean trash to animals. And they are so easy to refuse to use. Just throw a reusable shopping bag and some nifty mesh produce bags in your purse, backpack, or car (wherever would be convenient), and take them with you to use when you shop.  
  2. Refuse to use plastic straws. Plastic straws are everywhere. Over 9 million straws have been picked up off of beaches during International Coastal Cleanups. That has motivated the Ocean Conservancy’s #SkiptheStraw campaign. You can refuse plastic straws by… refusing them. Tell your waiter or that friendly counter person that you don’t want a straw in your drink. If you really love straws or need them for medical reasons, buy some paper straws or one of the reusable varieties that are currently flooding the marketplace and bring them with you when you’re out and about.
  3. Bring your own water bottle. Yes, stay hydrated, but not with water bottled in plastic. Americans purchase over half a billion bottles of water every week even though we have some of the best tap water in the world. And bottle caps are the fifth deadliest trash for ocean animals because they are so easily ingested. Save some money and save the ocean from plastic pollution by bringing your own water bottle. Nothing fancy needed. Make it a habit to have one everywhere you go.
  4. Bring your own coffee cup. We wish we could say it ain’t so, but those paper cups that hold your to-go coffee are lined with plastic. They are not recyclable and let’s not forget the very obviously plastic lids that cover them. Do the ocean a favor and bring your own coffee cup instead. Again, nothing fancy needed, just a simple ceramic one from your cupboard will do the trick. Make it a habit and it will become a habit!

Take our Plastic Pledge, mail it in, and we'll contact you about picking up your reward - a free reusable shopping and produce bag.

Have a lovely new year and thank you for doing your part to reduce plastic on our shorelines and in the oceans in 2019.

Source: Wilcox, C., Mallos, N.J., Leonard, G.H., Rodriguez, A., Denise, B., 2016. Using expert elicitation to estimate the impacts of plastic pollution on marine wildlife. Mar. Policy 65, 107–114. doi:10.1016/j.marpol.2015.10.014 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308597X15002985

The Skagit Plastic Reduction and Recycling Coalition is a partnership between Friends of Skagit Beaches, Skagit County Solid Waste, and the Washington Department of Ecology. We are working to educate Skagit County residents on the issues of plastic waste in the environment and involve them in taking action to avoid single-use plastics and recycle plastic right.

The Friends of Skagit Beaches Plastics Project is funded by a grant from the Washington Department of Ecology with additional support from Skagit County Solid Waste Division.

Article submitted by Joan Drinkwin, Natural Resources Consultants, Inc.

Create Memories, Not Waste, this Holiday Season!

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According to Stanford University, Americans throw away 25% more trash during the holiday season than any other time of year. This extra trash amounts to 25 million tons of garbage! That’s a lot! The good news is its not difficult to reduce waste during the holidays.

Here are seven things we all can do to prevent waste this holiday season. 

  1. Eat, drink, and be merry without single-use plastic. All those party plates and platters may look festive, but they will last long after the holiday season has ended. Use real cups, dishes, and cutlery at your holiday parties. And bring your own cup, plates and cutlery on the go, so you can refuse those ubiquitous to-go cups and containers when you’re out and about.

  2. And while you’re at it, join the clean plate club and avoid holiday food waste. The average American household throws away $2,200 worth of food every year. Yikes! Avoid contributing to this shocking statistic by preparing food for the holidays in reasonable quantities and make sure you and your family eat those leftovers! And avoid food gifts unless you are sure they will be appreciated and eaten!

  3. Use natural materials to wrap gifts and reuse wrapping materials. Forgo traditional wrapping paper and plastic tape and use newspaper, recycled paper, or even fabricto wrap gifts. Use twine or cloth ribbons to secure. If every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet.                

  4. Ditch plastic decorations. Refuse "fake snow," which is often made from finely ground polystyrene. Choose reusable decor over disposable, and real garland over plastic. Avoid decorations packaged in unrecyclable plastic.

  5. Recycle Right. Contamination of the recycling waste stream is a significant problem, resulting in loads of recyclable plastics landing in landfills. Keeping abreast of what goes in those plastics recycling bins is important. In Skagit County, if you have curbside recycling you can recycle clean bottles, cups, jars, jugs, and tubs. If you take your plastic recycling to the transfer station, you can recycle clean plastic bottles and jugs, but not cups or tubs. Easy right? Just remember the SHAPE of the container is what’s important, not the number in the triangle recycle triangle.               
  6. Don't purchase gifts in unrecyclable plastic packaging (like clamshells/oyster packaging). This packaging is not recyclable in Skagit County or in most other places in the nation. Seek out gifts that are unpackaged.

  7. Give gifts of time and experience instead of more packaged “stuff.” Some great options are theater or movie tickets, an afternoon roller skating or bowling, a special lunch date, or coupons for time spent together.

Enjoy the holidays with your friends and family as a time to be together, to cook and share stories.

Create memories, not waste! Happy Holidays!

 Sources:

Stanford University https://lbre.stanford.edu/pssistanford-recycling/frequently-asked-questions/frequently-asked-questions-holiday-waste-prevention

The Plastic Pollution Coalition https://www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org/pft/2016/12/16/5-ways-to-reduce-plastic-for-the-holidays

Friends new plastics project, Skagit Plastic Reduction & Recycling Coalition, is funded by a grant from the Washington Department of Ecology with additional support from Skagit County Solid Waste Division and Friends of Skagit Beaches. For more information about this project or to volunteer, contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Article submitted by Joan Drinkwin, Natural Resources Consultants, Inc.

Skagit Plastic Waste Reduction & Recycling Project

plastics display

(pictured right: FOSB Plastic Interpretive Display rolled out at Fidalgo Shoreline Academy)

Friends of Skagit Beaches -  with support from Skagit County Solid Waste Division and the Skagit Marine Resource Committee's Salish Sea Steward volunteer program - has undertaken a new project to provide education and outreach to residents of Skagit County to reduce single-use plastics that can find their way into our waterways and become marine debris, a major issue threatening our bays and oceans.

A second goal of the project is to educate local communities about changes to plastic waste recycling requirements. As some of our readers may be aware, China is no longer accepting plastics for recycling from the United States and other countries due to the high percentage of “contamination” of the waste stream. This is not contamination of the sort you might expect, it’s really an issue of the plastic being collected containing a high-percentage of non-recyclable plastic waste. This has significantly impacted the viability of plastic recycling and changed the requirements for the types of plastic that can be accepted into the recycling stream. We are calling this part of our project a Skagit County plastic recycling “reboot” to convey that we all need to relearn what plastics can and cannot be recycled.

Friends recently received a grant from the WA Department of Ecology to support rolling out this program in Skagit County. Board member, Betty Carteret, who drafted the proposal, will manage the project. We are just getting started and recruiting volunteers to help make it a success. Friends has contracted with Joan Drinkwin of Natural Resources Consultants to lead the project and coordinate volunteer activities.

Some of you may know Joan from her work with the Skagit MRC’s Salish Sea Stewards Volunteer Program this year. She is working with Callie Martin, Skagit County Waste Reduction and Recycling Educator, to develop a full-day training program for the volunteers to learn details about issues with marine debris and single-use plastics, changes in the plastic recycling market and requirements, and alternatives to single-use plastics. Additional training will be offered to hone outreach and communication skills so our volunteers can effectively foster plastic waste reduction and proper plastic recycling in Skagit County.

Volunteers will be asked to contribute a minimum of 10 hours of volunteer time in exchange for this training program.


If you’re passionate about doing something about marine debris and plastics in our environment, we hope you’ll join the team. For more information or to sign up for the training, please contact Joan Drinkwin via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. In upcoming editions of the Friends’ newsletter look for articles about the project as our volunteers get to work in the community and what you can do to help solve the problem with plastics polluting our environment.