Wrinkled Wisdom: It Ain’t Easy Going Green

A newspaper headline recently blared that it ain’t easy going green. No kidding! Recycling sure ain’t easy. Know you are not alone if you often find yourself scratching your head about what goes in your recycle bin. Three out of four of us are confused. 

Okay, let’s see if we can help. Paper is easy. Books, magazines, and newspapers are recyclable. Oops! Shredded paper may not be recyclable in your area. Each ton of recycled paper is turned into new products, saving 17 trees. Yes! Cardboard boxes are a go, too. But, toss those tissues, napkins, and paper towels in the trash if you don’t compost. Just learned that’s because they contain fibers too short to be made into new paper. Good trivia question!

The American Forest and Paper Association hit the media before the February Super Bowl, urging people to recycle pizza boxes. People watching the game at home ordered over 12.5 million pizzas. Yikes! That’s a lot of cardboard to be transformed into new products. Not to mention the calories! There has been mixed messaging on this because of the grease, but mills overwhelmingly say yes…yes we accept pizza boxes.

Okay, recycling aluminum and tin cans, plastic bottles, jars, and glass bottles is a gimme. But, we didn’t know that you shouldn’t smash your soda can or recyclable containers. The machines will get confused since they separate based on dimensions.

Yes, we all agree that the recycling process can be stinky, but we mean that figuratively, not literally! If your bin is stinky, you flunk recycling, literally. You’ve got to make sure containers are free of food. You’re supposed to rinse out that leftover soup and those brownie bits. So, here’s the dilemma. In Colorado, we are hurting for water. Guess you could start by licking up the residue. But, how about this?? Clean out the container with your dinner napkin. A two-fer!

Lids are really tricky. If your yogurt container has a foil top, toss the foil in the trash. If a container is plastic and the lid is as well, keep the lid attached. Think juice bottles and those ubiquitous prescription meds. Glass container and metal lid?  Remove the lid and put both in the recycle bin.

Wow, we’ve really been screwing up. We knew ice cream containers couldn’t be recycled, but didn’t know you can’t recycle frozen dinner boxes. Heck, frozen dinners have been our go-to during the pandemic as we tired of cooking and sought immediate gratification. Sorry!!!

Bad news for junk food lovers. Potato chip, Cheetos, popcorn, and other snack packaging are not recyclable. That bag is often made of aluminum or a special mixed plastic to keep the junk food fresh. This includes the wrappers inside cracker boxes. Hmmm…better munch on Cheez-Its or peanut butter Bits. Their recycle info is actually clearly printed and readable. Wow! Recycle the box and drop off the inside plastic bag at the grocery store. Helps minimize guilt for craving that yummy, fattening stuff.

Another eye-opener is what can be recycled at the grocery store. Thought it was only plastic grocery bags. No. It’s way more. Ziploc-type bag. Bread bags. Plastic liners from cereal boxes. Produce bags. Dry cleaning bags minus the stapled receipts. Newspaper delivery bags. Even bubble wrap if you are willing to pop all the bubbles. Maybe pop those bubbles with passion while watching the news about Ukraine rather than shouting obscenities at the TV. If you are gritting your teeth worried about whether to toss some plastic in with the stuff going to the grocery store, do the crinkle test. Crush the questionable wrap in your hand. If it bounces back into shape after you scrunch it or makes a crunchy sound, in the trash it goes. When in doubt, throw it out.

Check and see if your trash company’s website has a search section so you can type in a tricky item and get info on whether it’s recyclable. We all sure need the help.

So, our Wrinkled Wisdom for today? Shop products made from recycled plastic. There’s an amazing variety of stuff. Increasing demand will motivate companies to make more stuff out of our recycled junk. If you really want to freak out, google microplastics—the tiny particles formed by the breakdown of plastic products. We are breathing, drinking, and eating them. Even in beer! Hopefully, not scotch! If things don’t change, we could end up in a recycle bin. Pull out the old Tupperware; ditch the plastic wrap and aluminum foil. And put your glasses on when looking for that damn, tiny recycling symbol!  Oh, and our favorite, clever message is on Coke cans: Recycle me…see you again soon. 

Wrinkled Wisdom – Pretty Please, Pay Attention to Plastics

There’s light at the end of the proverbial tunnel for vaccinated oldies!  Okay, that’s trite.  One late night host was much more creative in describing the Center for Disease Control’s latest guidelines for vaccinated seniors.  He called it an invitation to host “geriatric orgies.” Huh?  We’re just happy to see the grandkids and grocery shop in person.  It’s so satisfying to choose our own grapes and celery; and, while walking around, pick up things we don’t need, like more junk food.  The CDC also said we can now safely eat indoors at restaurants, which brings us to plastics.

Our year of ordering in and grocery deliveries has made us even more aware of plastics.  Takeout delivery includes a lot of single-use items and a lot of plastic!  Remember the 1967 movie The Graduate? In a discussion about Ben’s future, Mr. Braddock says he wants to say one word to Ben.  Just one word…plastics, because there’s a great future in plastics.  Mr. Braddock nailed it over 50 years ago.  Plastic products have increased by over 8% each year since the 1950s.  Huge!

Their impact on our oceans and wildlife has been astounding.  The Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean is well-known.  It’s almost six times the size of Colorado and chock full of fishing nets, trash, and plastic debris.  Didn’t know there are now four additional garbage patches in other locations around the world.

Our oceans are saturated with more than eight million tons of plastic waste every year. And, now, microplastics—fragments of any type of plastic—are increasingly seen as a global environmental concern.  Big things eat littler things.  Tiny anchovies eat microplastics and are, in turn, gobbled up by fish that are sold in our supermarkets. It used to be said, jokingly, that we were made of corn and sugar.  Now we can add plastic to that list. 

For visual impact, just google the numerous, heart-wrenching pictures of dead whales and dolphins, their stomachs filled with plastic and trash, or watch the video of a plastic straw being removed from an endangered sea turtle’s nose.  The Coast Guard estimates that more than one million birds and 100,000 marine mammals die each year from eating or getting entangled in plastic debris. And, it’s not just marine animals.  Researchers studying floating plastics in the Persian Gulf region just found over 2,000 plastic bags in the stomach of a dead camel because it ate human trash.

Another depressing fact?  Plastic bags take about 10 to 20 years to decompose in landfills. It’s estimated that plastic bottles take 450 years.  As they degrade, they shed more microplastic shards into the air and water.  And don’t get us started on the microplastic from fleece!  

What can we do as news about plastic gets scarier?  We all recycle, of course.  We should also buy products in containers from recycled plastic.  But, to really make a difference, we need to support investment in better recycling technology, recyclable alternative packaging, and assure recycling is easy, accessible to all, and cheap.  As one newsperson wrote, “Like perms, gaucho pants, and bump-it clips, plastics appear to be trending downwards in the court of public opinion.”  This negativity has spurred companies to research cost-competitive, environmentally friendly replacements for conventional plastics.  Hurry!  

And, when you take those plastic bags back to the grocery store, include produce bags, newspaper bags, zipper sandwich bags, the plastic that covers your dry cleaning, and some acceptable cereal bags with your returns.  Even bubble wrap is recyclable. 

So, our wrinkled wisdom for today?  Seek out products like Dove that clearly indicate you are buying shampoo in 100% recycled bottles.  Lobby for recycle symbols that can be spotted without eyeglasses, much less a microscope!  Check your trash company’s website to learn what is recyclable in your area.  No shredded paper??  Advocate for new chips and snack bags—ones without that shiny layer of polypropylene that protects crispness, but can’t be recycled. Please, do we have to sacrifice munching on Cheetos to be environmentally responsible?  And, if you are worried about plastics AND waiting for grandkids, you might want to read the book Count Down about plastics’ impact on fertility. Or not.

P.S. In some areas, it’s again okay for our reusable bags to accompany us to the grocery store.  Don’t forget to wash them!  We like to think of it as an extension of handwashing.