Wait, can we really have a plastic FREE July?! Well, not exactly. You see, Plastic Free July is an opportunity for the worldwide community to imagine a plastic free world, innovate about how to get there and empower ourselves to take action.
Sounds bold. That’s because it is! We bet you’re wondering if plastic can be eliminated completely... it’s so useful. Well, we don’t have to decide this just yet. We do know, unequivocally, that we need to change the way we use plastic (If you need a summary of why this is, check out The Story of Plastic). Luckily, we don’t have to solve the whole plastic problem to get started right away!
This Plastic Free July, MEC is taking the opportunity to imagine and innovate together. We invite you to join us in exploring over the next 4 weeks:
Practical tips for reducing personal plastic use
Getting ready for the upcoming single use bag and styrofoam ban
What kind of support and direction can we see from local, state and federal legislatures?
Highlights from the most promising innovative upstream strategies
How will Montclair move toward making every month plastic FREE?!
“But I recycle”
Let’s get this out of the way: we are not going to recycle our way out of our plastic problem. If your tub is overflowing, you don’t focus on cleaning up the water without turning off the tap.
Recycling is not a long term solution. (If you need a summary of this, try Everyday Environmentalist).
So our focus this month will be: reduce, reuse and ...reduce some more.
Let’s Start Here
If you’re new to this conversation, here’s a list of prevalent terms to know.
The effort to minimize the waste you produce to nothing. There is a wide range of strategies needed to achieve this ideal and it doesn’t happen all at once, if ever. Every step toward reducing your waste is impactful.
This is a term that has been diluted by broad use. The strictest definition is the ability to continue an activity indefinitely without running out of resources or energy, i.e.resources and energy used is given sufficient time to replenish. As is true in other areas, sustainability can be thought of on a spectrum where almost all movement toward being more sustainable is worthwhile.
Reuse or Reusable
Products designed to stay in use for longer periods of time or multiple uses (how many or how long is different depending on the product but here, bigger is better). These are in direct contrast with products designed for single use. There are also reuse strategies, like buying second hand, that are employed for products that are not necessarily designed as reusable.
A type of reuse strategy that allows people to replenish many household, personal care, and other products in reusable containers, instead of throwing out, often plastic, containers every time they’re empty.
Upstream and Downstream
This refers to where in the product’s lifecycle a strategy is employed. Upstream applies to strategies that are employed early in the process, like a modular design for easy upgrades. Downstream means later, such as at the end of the product’s useful life, like recycling. Upstream changes have a greater effect on sustainability.
There is quite a lot of confusion here. The basic definition is a material that is technically able to be broken down into smaller parts that can then be used to make something else. So far, so good. Where it gets fuzzy is that there has to be systems in place to collect, sort, and recycle the material and a market for the output. These conditions change from place to place, meaning some plastic that might be technically recyclable isn’t practically possible. Here’s what’s recyclable in Montclair.
Remember that market for the output above? This is it. It’s the portion of a product’s material composition made from recycled material. The higher content being used, the greater demand for recycled material, and the better the systems supporting it grow.
This is another very complex term. Generally, organic (meaning it was once living) materials that, when they biodegrade, create a nutrient-rich compost that improves soil quality. In the context of plastic, compostable materials typically come up as replacement packaging, often in food service. While they will biodegrade in compost systems, these products generally require industrial composting facilities and do not actually contribute nutrients to the compost.
Biodegradable means, given certain conditions and presence of microorganisms, fungi, or bacteria, a material will eventually break down to its basic components and blend back in with the earth. Biodegradable plastic is plastic which is manipulated to biodegrade in a controlled environment.
Plastics made, wholly or in some part, from biological sources. This is a very promising developing option. Remembering that biological sources need to be replenished, any transition to bioplastic must be accompanied with substantial changes to how we use plastic generally.
More Plastic Free July