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We don’t Need to Take Plastic Pollution for Granted

Dec 30, 2020 03:22PM ● By Joy Hughes

Plastic is so popular because it is durable and cheap, but there is an extremely high environmental cost that we should all be aware of and make our consumption decisions armed with that knowledge. The plastic crisis (and it certainly is a crisis) is not our fault. Plastic producers and sellers, pumping out insane amounts of plastic simply because they can make so much money off it, have been hugely successful in protecting their business by convincing consumers that it is our responsibility to dispose of plastics properly via “recycling”. However, because of the sheer volume and the many different types of plastic, that is simply no longer feasible.


For instance, a lot of people think that the number on the bottom determines a plastic product’s recyclability, but that is a misconception. All #1 plastics are not created equal. All #2 plastics are not the same. The bottom line is that it is solely up to (1) the market/demand for recycled goods and (2) the local municipality to determine what is needed/can be accepted. Unfortunately, the market is sparse and the majority of municipalities do not have appropriate funds or infrastructure in place to handle the amount we collectively discard up and down the waste stream.


To illustrate this point, world production has increased exponentially from 2.3 million tons in 1950 to 162 million tons in 1993, 448 million tons in 2015 and is forecasted to increase another 40 percent over the next few decades. The plastic pollution these numbers produce today is equivalent to one garbage truck of plastic waste being dumped into the ocean every minute. In 2050 it will be equivalent to one garbage truck every 15 seconds. Conversely, the devastating reality is that only about 10 percent of plastic is actually recycled. Here are some tips to remember and practice.


#1 Know what is waste and reduce consumption. Take mental notes or write down what we are throwing away on a daily basis. Look for alternatives as things run out. Determine if it can be made at home, bought in larger quantities or even in bulk, thereby using less packaging. The most important question is whether we can live without it, because sometimes adopting a plastic-free lifestyle simply means we don’t buy certain items anymore. Setting purchasing boundaries based solely on the packaging will inherently save tons of money every year. When the plastic just can’t be avoided, dispose of it properly. Some of it can be recycled, and for the things that aren’t, rinse and use them for storage of food and other things around the house.


#2 Recycle right. If we aren’t sure it can be recycled in the county, throw it away and try to avoid purchasing it again, if possible. When we recycle incorrectly, costs increase because of the extra labor and maintenance, and sometimes the only solution for a municipality is to end their recycling program altogether. Alachua County has an excellent resource ( for what is and isn’t recyclable locally. For those that live in an apartment complex that doesn’t recycle, there are recycling drop-offs all around the county or collect and take it to the main recycling center. It is an extra effort, but worth it.


#3 Compost food waste. Keeping food waste out of the landfill allows it to turn back into soil and contribute directly, in an incredibly impactful way, to a greener planet. Check local program such as Beaten Path Compost ([email protected]), in Gainesville, if it is not possible to compost at home.


Paper and clean cardboard are very recyclable for businesses. Going digital whenever possible also reduces waste. Cleaning up employee break rooms or ordering corporate lunches from restaurants that avoid plastic and Styrofoam are all steps in the right direction.



Joy Hughes is the owner of Life Unplastic, located at 2441 NW 43rd St., Ste, 24B-1, in Gainesville. For more information, call 352-225-3116 or visit