Happy July! AND Happy Plastic Free July! Started in Australia, Plastic Free July now reaches over 2 million people across the globe. During the month of July, participants commit to reduce and eliminate plastic use. You can choose to 1. Avoid single use plastic packaging 2. Eliminate use of takeaway items (bags, bottles, straws, coffee cups) or 3. Go completely plastic-free. I highly recommend registering here and committing to even one small change! The Plastic Free July site also has great tips on reducing your plastic waste. Read on to learn about some of the easiest changes you can make this month and links to some past posts if you want to go even more in depth!
Bring your own shoppings bags as well as canvas or mesh produce bags to hold fruits, veggies, and bulk items.
No straws! Learn to say “no straw please” whenever you get a drink at a restaurant or bar. If you MUST have a straw, bring along your own stainless steel one.
Avoid plastic cutlery during your summertime picnics/bbqs/events. Use your usual washable flatware or get compostable wooden cutlery.
Say no to the single use plastic water bottles. I guarantee you have some reusable water bottles laying around the house from some event or another. Commit to using it!
Make your own coffee and tea at home OR bring your own cup to the coffee shop.
Avoid plastic wrap when storing food. Use reusable beeswax wraps, glass storage containers, and compostable parchment paper.
And if you are looking to REALLY get into the plastic free or zero waste life, check out the following:
Or…. not. I wanted to share some pictures today from my recycling classes with the city. We toured multiple facilities including a single stream recycling plant, a textile recycling facility, and an electronics recycling facility. I think we all have a feeling of “go me!” when you declutter, take things out, and drop them off at whatever place takes that particular item. But then… we kind of forget about it. We forget that our decluttering leads to clutter and trash and stuff elsewhere. So here’s a little reminder that while the stuff is no longer in our possession… they are now stuck being dealt with by someone else. And guys… there’s a LOT of stuff. So just a reminder to be mindful of what you buy to begin with. (Click on the images to see the captions on what you are looking at.)
Bales of recycled paper at the single stream recycling plant.
And more bales of recycled paper. These are then sold to companies that utilize recycled materials.
Bales of clothing at the textile recycler. These bales are then sold to other countries, where buyers then re-sell (or try to, at least) all this clothing.
Bags of donated clothing.
And… more bags of donated clothing.
Bales of donated stuffed animals. Again, this will be sold to different countries.
Boxes of brand new clothing that didn’t sell. This will be shipped off to other countries.
Old TVs donated to the electronics recycler. They will take these TVs apart and sell/donate the parts.
Old VHS tapes that will be taken apart and recycled.
Old monitors that will be taken apart and recycled.
Last week, I volunteered with my city at a recycling education table at a local elementary school’s eco fair. I had a ton of fun playing the “sorting game” with lots of youngins (and some of their parents) where participants are asked to sort items in to either a trash or recycling pile. It was interesting to see which items threw people off the most… so here they are. Common — “can I recycle this?” questions answered.
Things that threw off parents:
Wire hangers. NO. Take these to the dry cleaners!
Aluminum foil. Nope. Trash.
Styrofoam cups (even with the #6 at the bottom). Very, very few cities actually take styrofoam so the answer is usually no.
Things that threw off (young) kids:
Tissues, paper towels, napkins. While, yes, this is a paper product… Nope. Compost or trash these.
Magazines. The colored paper seemed to throw off some kids so I had to explain that while colorful, magazines are still paper and can be recycled.
Cardboard! This one was interesting. The brown color seemed to make some kids associate cardboard with wood (and therefore not recyclable). I had to explain that it was just a really thick paper product.
Things that threw off everyone:
Plastic/disposable cutlery. A lot of these are actually made out of #6 plastic. HOWEVER, many cities won’t take these (or ultimately wont recycle these) because it’s not cost effective to do so. So this usually falls into the trash pile. Moral: use reusable or compostable cutlery!
Disclaimer: I am basing this information off of what I learned while touring our local recycling facility. Your facility may be different with different recycling rules and procedures. The best way to find out is by contacting your local facility, going on a tour, or reaching out to your city’s green/recycling/zero waste initiative divisions.
Visiting our local recycling facility was one of the most educational opportunities I’ve had in a long time. It was fascinating how high tech the facility was but also how much we don’t know as a community on best recycling practices. So. I’m hoping to share out a few small things I’ve learned. First off, make the time to check out this video. This is the facility that I got to visit and it was absolutely fascinating to see how materials are sorted in a single stream recycling system.
And here’s what I learned — broken down by different types of materials.
#1, #2, #5 — These recycled plastics have a good market in our area so I don’t feel too terrible about using them (i.e. if I do choose to use plastic for something, I try and make sure it’s one of these numbers). Check with your city to see which plastics are in the most demand in your area.
#3, #4 — Not as good of a market as the plastics above so I tend to avoid as much as possible. However, yes, these are still recycled.
#6 aka styrofoam — These are not taken by my city. We were told that even IF they are taken for recycling, the market is very low for #6 plastics. I avoid these as much as possible.
#7 aka mixed use plastics — Not a lot of curbside recycling programs take this number but ours does. However, this is done mainly to make the recycling process easier for the community — but, these products are not truly recycled. I find that a lot of skin and body care products use #7 packaging. I have been saving these to take to Origins but have also considered getting a TerraCycle Beauty Product Box just so I know the packaging is getting recycled in some way.
Other Plastic Recycling Tips
Black plastics (like the ones found with frozen meals) can be difficult to recycle because the conveyor belt that handles all the recycling materials is also black, making it difficult for the sensors to pick them out.
Certain facilities take plastic shopping bags/bread bags/dry cleaning bags/ziplock bags/air cushions (all bagged in to another plastic bag). If not, these can be dropped off at store plastic bag drop offs.
Plastics should be clean, empty, and dry when put in the recycling bin!
Broken glass cannot be recycled in my city. Some cities may take broken glass if contained in a paper bag or box.
Metal or plastic (all-non glass) lids attached to a glass container must be removed for separate recycling since the recycling machine is unable to separate out a non-glass lid from a glass container (see more on this below).
The best item to recycle! There’s a strong market and products are not “downcycled” in to less desirable items. The process is also incredibly fast.
Small pieces of metal (anything smaller than a size of a sticky note such as bottle caps or even can lids) are too small to go through the recycling system on its own as the pieces will fall through the machine (and ultimately get thrown away). I get around this by collecting all my small pieces of metal and storing them in an old can. Once full, I hammer the can shut (so the little pieces don’t fall out) and recycle as usual.
Aluminum foil can not be recycled.
Again — items should be clean, empty, and dry!
Small pieces of paper and shredded paper need to be corralled together so that the small pieces don’t fall through the cracks (literally). I collect all my small pieces of paper in a large brown paper bag and recycle when full.
Our recycling facility does take milk and juice cartons — even though they have that plastic coating inside + a plastic spout. They have a very cool system that separates out all the plastic from the paper carton.
Metallic paper (such as some gift wraps) can not be recycled.
Items That Cannot Be Recycled
Here are the items that the facility frequently finds in the system (even though they can NOT be recycled): diapers, dog poop, grass clippings, hoses, and hangers (this can really mess up the machinery, by the way! take your old hangers to the dry cleaners or donate them!).
I will keep this list updated as I explore and learn more. Please let me know if you’ve found any other places that aid in a zero waste lifestyle!
Central Market: Buy fruits, veggies, mushrooms, (sometimes salad greens depending on the location), bulk flour, sugar, spices, nuts, granola, oats, candy, chocolate, tea, coffee, fresh bread all with your own bags. They do have bulk honey and nut butters as well — but I haven’t tried buying these with my own jar as I don’t know whether the cashiers can handle the whole tare process. I have brought my own jar for hummus in the olive bar section and used the scale there to tare + print my checkout label (which was a bit of a pain as it took a while to figure out). Unfortunately, they don’t have the same scale in the bulk section. Overall though, Central Market is the bulk winner based off of the sheer amount of items available in the bulk section.
Whole Foods: Buy fruits, veggies, mushrooms, (sometimes salad greens depending on the location), bulk flour, sugar, spices, nuts, granola, oats, candy, chocolate, tea, coffee all with your own bags. They also have bulk honey and nut butters as well. However — I have heard that it is very hit or miss as to whether they let you bring your own jars.
Sprouts: Buy fruits, veggies, some bulk flour, sugar, spices, nuts, granola, candy, chocolate with your own bags. Much smaller selection than Central Market but really good prices. I’ve noticed that they frequently have pre-measured bulk items available to buy in plastic containers (nut butters, candy, etc.) — which kind of defeats the purpose of buying bulk.
Market Street: This one was a bit of a surprise. My husband wandered in to the Market Street in Allen (Watters Creek) and noticed they had honey and canola oil in bulk. He asked the store manager whether they could handle us bringing our own jars and she said yes! We haven’t had to utilize this yet (since I stocked up on liquid bulk items at the AMAZING in.gredients store in Austin — highly recommend if you are driving through!) but will report back on if this works out.
Dallas Farmers Market (or any farmers markets in the area): Fruits and veggies. Especially a good way to get berries that aren’t packaged in plastic (more on that next).
Pick Your Own Farms
Berries. My husband loves them. I hate that they are always pre-packaged. Enter the pick your own farms. The winner here is Blueberry Hills Farm for amazing blueberries and blackberries. Last year, we picked 2 massive bags of blueberries (yes, they ultimately put them in a big old freezer bag, but I prefer that once a year to weekly plastic cartons). I used one bag to make jams and stuck the other bag in the freezer. We’re finally running out a year later but will be back to pick some more this June. There’s a new strawberry picking farm opening this year which I will check out and report back on!
Recycle Revolution Dallas: Come here to recycle all traditional materials and electronics waste for free (if your city doesn’t have these services). They also take styrofoam for a fee — although, I would avoid styrofoam as much as possible.
Recycle Revolution Dallas: For a $1/gallon — drop off “fruits and vegetables (i.e. produce), meats, dairy, grains and carbohydrates, sweets, powders, compostable utensils and to-go bags.” A great option if you aren’t able to compost at home. For reference, I fill our 5 gallon bucket to the brim in 4-6 weeks.
Household Chemical Reuse Center (Plano and Allen residents only): Unused/unfinished chemicals (cleaning, yard, pest control, paint) that are picked up by the city are available for reuse at this center. And it’s completely free! I find it wonderful for spray paint and ant killer.
United Electronics Recycling: I visited this facility and was amazed by the sheer amount of electronics they process. I also love that they have zero landfill initiative. If an item has a plug or has used batteries — it’s eligible to recycle. They also take all types of batteries (not just rechargeable ones). In Plano, they have a weekly e-recycling drop off but also do one off events across the Dallas-area.
SCRAP Denton: Great for all those random items (mostly craft related supplies). SCRAP Denton takes different items at different times of the year so check their website periodically for updates. However, I have usually found that I was able to get rid of a lot of these items through FreeCycle. However, a great resource for those closer to Denton.