Breaking up with Single-Use Plastics

We wouldn’t normally recommend breaking up on Valentine’s Day – but when we reflect on our love/hate relationship with single-use plastics – sometimes enough is enough.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) produced a Public Service Announcement in 2018 as part of their #CleanSeas campaign to reflect on this “challenging” relationship. In the video “It’s not me, it’s you,” Sandra decides it’s finally time to break-up with single-use plastic products such as disposable cutlery, take-out containers, and shopping bags (it’s worth watching here if you haven’t seen it).

Sure, these items are convenient and cheap – but don’t we deserve more? Is it really “true love” if you only use the item once? We don’t know about you, but we are looking for a long-term relationship. Something sustainable (pun intended).

When you start looking around, you may realize these single-use items are all around you. It seems like almost everything is made out of plastic – from your toothpaste tube to the stir straw that came in your favorite cocktail. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. Where do you even start?

This is understandable – breaking up is hard. It can be uncomfortable. You can even find yourself rebounding at times. Rest assured that you don’t have to do it all at once, you don’t need to go out and buy expensive reusable items, and your little changes can have a big impact. JFK once said “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”

Here are some tips on how to break up with single-use plastic:

  1. Can you reuse or recycle it? If you are wondering where to start – look at the disposable items you use on a regular basis that are not recyclable or reusable. Not sure which plastics are recyclable? If it’s a bottle, jug, jar, or tub – you can recycle it! Still not sure? Check the Recyclopedia.

  2. Ask yourself if you really need it. Getting food delivered to your office or house? You likely have reusable forks, spoons, and knives on hand. Most restaurants are happy to skip the disposable cutlery if you just ask. Thanks to the Habits of Waste  #CutOutCutlery campaign, delivery services like Uber Eats are getting on board and providing plastic cutlery for take-out orders by request only.

  3. Bring Your Own (BYO). Some things you just can’t refuse (like coffee) but you can often bring your own reusable alternative. Refill your coffee in your own cup at the cafe, pack some bamboo utensils in your bag for lunch on the go, and grab those cloth bags for the trip to the grocery store. Big fan of straws but tight on space? They even make collapsible straws. Who knew?

  4. Bulk Up. Some of the best things come with no packaging at all! If you haven’t checked out the bulk section at your local grocery store yet – just bring your own container and fill it with olive oil, coffee beans, peanut butter, granola, dried beans, grains, fruit or even kombucha on tap!

  5. Sustainable Food Storage Swaps. Swapping zip-lock baggies and cling wrap for reusable options will save money and reduce your plastic waste. Win-win. Reusable food storage bags come in all different sizes, colors, patterns, and materials so you can really make a statement when you pack your lunch. Beeswax wrap, bowl covers, silicon lids, or even a dish towel can be used to replace cling wrap. Here is a tutorial on how to make your own DIY Beeswax food wrap.

At the end of the day- just remember that getting over the convenience of single-use plastic gets easier with time. As you embrace your new, fabulous plastic-free self – take the time to reflect on your progress and treat yo’ self. Ice cream in a cup or cone? What’s a few extra calories in an ice cream cone when you are saving the planet?

Spread the Love – NEW Recycle Smart Resource Page

Whether you are looking to educate  neighbors, residents, customers, students, tenants, co-workers or your mother-in-law – we have the resources to help you get the word out about Smart Recycling.  You’ll find videos, hand-outs, artwork for signs and banners, and graphics for social media. These fully customizable online and print materials help take the guesswork out of which items can (and cannot) be recycled based on existing sorting technology and markets in Massachusetts. Check out the new page: recyclesmartma.org/resources/

Sweet Talk – Recycle Smart by the Numbers

UR GREAT. This Valentine’s Day we want to let you know how much we appreciate your support. With negative recycling stories making the news headlines almost daily, more and more people are looking for answers to their pressing recycling questions. It is more important than ever that we all do our part and recycle smart. We are thankful for the 23K + Bay Staters following and engaging with us on social media. (If you haven’t already – get social with us on FacebookTwitter, & Instagram). Nearly 252,000 individuals have visited RecycleSmartMA.org, used the Recyclopedia search tool over 209,000 times, and more than 2,800 recycling advocates (YOU) have signed up to receive monthly recycling news from Recycle Smart. Help us continue to spread the recycling love by sharing Recycle Smart with your family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors.

Have questions or topics you would like to see Recycle Smart address in this newsletter or on social media? Drop us a line at RecycleSmartMA@mass.gov. (Thx ROCK STAR)

Partner Spotlight : Town of Arlington

Image from The Town of Arlington’s Zero Waste Guide

This month we are recognizing the Town of Arlington for their great work. In July 2019, they added the Recycle Smart search tool (the Recyclopedia) to the town’s recycling, trash and composting web page. Since then, residents have accessed the Recyclopedia nearly 20,000 times from the town’s site to answer their pressing recycling questions. “Arlington was looking to improve access to easy-to-understand curbside recycling rules, and the Recyclopedia is working great,” says Recycling Coordinator Charlotte Milan. “Residents always appreciate it once they know it’s there, and I think it’s making our page infinitely more useful to the average visitor.We are experiencing fewer calls to the office about basic recycling dos and don’ts, plus we have a place to send curious or skeptical residents.”

The town also incorporated Recycle Smart images into their Zero Waste Guide which is mailed town-wide each June, they made sticker versions of the Smart Recycling Guide for all the school recycling carts, and they are partnering with larger apartment buildings by printing out Recycle Smart posters for their communal recycling areas. “I’d like to see the Recycle Smart graphics on all of our apartment and condo buildings’ recycling cart lids. Seeing the same image in our annual guide, then again each time we place out recycling, is the way to reinforce this behavior” says Milan.

As the name of their annual guide implies, in addition to educating residents about recycling best practices, the town’s Zero Waste Committee encourages the community to go a step further and produce less waste. From passing a polystyrene ban last May, hosting repair events, encouraging residents to borrow household items from the local Library of Things, and promoting swapping and sharing practices –  Arlington is leadng the way forward.

Want to see the Recyclopedia search tool on your city or town’s webpage? Reach out to your local recycling coordinator or town hall and let them know about this free tool available through Recycle Smart MA. 

The Recyclopedia widget can be embedded directly onto any organization’s website. Visitors can search hundreds of common items (from paper bags to pizza boxes) to find out if they belong in the recycling bin or elsewhere.

For more information on how to embed the widget, please email us at RecycleSmartMA@mass.gov.

What We’re Reading

 Your (not so secret) admirers, The Recycle Smart Team at MassDEP