Turns out all these yogurt containers (#5 plastic) needn’t have been licked clean by my vizsla Mabel for proper recycling after all - they’re destined for the dump. But, the clear plastic container behind them, which I’ve been re-using for homemade peanut butter cookies, was made of recycled bottles and can in fact be recycled. Man, do I have a lot to learn. PHOTO BY JOLENE PALMER

Reduce, reuse...

Rethinking recycling

I started out my day with a little dining room closet cleanup - namely, the plastic recycling that has been accumulating there. I’ve recently been delving into the ins and outs of what can and cannot be recycled, and during an enlightening (and admittedly disheartening) chat with Tawnya Healy, sales and marketing director for We Recycle Montana, I learned that I’ve been doing it all wrong.

Basically, it comes down to those pesky numbers within the plastic recycling symbols. Ever since China changed what they’d accept from Western recyclers, via its 2017 National Sword policy (I’ll get into that in a bit), the only plastics that can be recycled are #1 and #2. That boils down to mostly bottles - water bottles, milk jugs, peanut butter jars (if they’re cleaned out!).

That leaves out plastics #3-7, which, it turns out, I have been hoarding in my recycling bin and tossing into the recycling center’s receptacle for absolutely no reason. It’s what We Recycle Montana owner Dave Leverett calls “The Wishful Recycling Concept,” in which well-intentioned recyclers figure, if they stick whatever plastic they have in the bin, it’ll ultimately end up in the hands of someone who can do something with it.

It’s a false premise, as those unwanted plastics are actually hurting the recycling company who has to get them separated out so that they can be sent off to the Logan Landfill. While I discussed recycling with Leverett it quickly became clear he’s truly passionate about the business, but even he has to try to put the kibosh on this belief that anything with a number printed on it makes it recyclable.

“If there’s a doubt, throw it out,” he told me of the answer to the hesitation some recyclers experience as they battle their inner desires to keep things out of the landfill. “I hate using that phrase, but the reality is, for years and years China took this stuff, until they realized how much pollution it created,” he said.

What Leverett is referring to is the now discontinued process in which China used to take in America’s plastic waste, destined to be shipped out to Chinese villages where the unprofitable bits were burned. These are now toxic superfund sites. So now, China will no longer take plastics #3-7, or even loose plastics - only highly sorted and pelletized plastics will fit the bill.

Ultimately, with more than two decades of plastic burning over in China coming to an end, this means better air quality for everyone. But it also means now is the time to re-educate ourselves on what can and can’t be done with the plastics we consume on a daily basis.

The shying away from plastic bags (check out Baggu tote bags, if you’re looking for a reusable grocery bag that’ll carry seemingly endless amounts of groceries, and garner a “That’s a cute bag, where’d you get it?” comment here and there), as well as from plastic straws, is a start.

But what about all these other pesky plastics destined for Logan? The yogurt tubs, hummus containers, salad and fruit containers... the list could go on and on. It’s still tough for me to throw them in the trash even now that I know that’s where they belong.

I’m sure I’m somewhat late to the game as far as this plastic dilemma realization situation goes. So, I’d love to hear from you - what steps have you taken to quell the flow of plastic from your home or business to the landfill? Garlands made of yogurt cups? Forgoing that pre-washed salad tub? Or maybe you don’t think this is such a big issue after all. Either way, let me know! Email editor@lonepeaklokout.com with your thoughts.

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