Green Corner: Addressing Plastic Waste

Article by Kip Coerper, organist and choirmaster for St. James’ Episcopal Church in Skaneateles and 2021 GreenFaith Fellow. He will offer reflections on climate justice and caring for God’s creation in this space in the months ahead. 

Plastic waste and recycling. What are we to do? Does it matter? The answer to that is a resounding yes, when you realize that once it is created, plastic never leaves the earth. It breaks down, but only into smaller and smaller particles that eventually find their way into our food and water and subsequently into our bodies. And in our bodies, they are contributors to cancer.

Alas, only about 9% of the world’s plastic is recycled. A problem is that huge companies and manufacturers are producing more and more plastic every year. Plastics have 85% less specific gravity than metals, allowing for potential 80% weight savings and 30-50% cost savings for individual components. Thus there is monetary incentive for businesses to further invest in plastic.

Since it is a business decision to create and use more plastic, it seems appropriate that businesses should be responsible for the environmental impact of their products. Presently only nine states (including New York) are pushing for “extended producer responsibility” laws to account for creating plastic that is recyclable. Most of these laws are around a single product, such as computers and batteries. Consider signing this petition to encourage corporate responsibility for creating plastic products.

What can we do as individuals? We can be more responsible about our recycling habits. It is imperative that we as consumers make an effort to recycle. Unfortunately, many of the products in our recycling bin do not get properly recycled. Products in the bin need to be clean. The contamination level of many American recyclables is 25%. Usually a contamination level of less than 0.5% is necessary for your product to be properly recycled.

Tips for recycling with care:

    1. Do not use plastic bags. All recyclables need to be loose in your bin. Plastic bags can be recycled separately at many grocery stores
    2. Recycle newspaper, magazines, catalogues, mail, paper, clean cardboard
    3. Recycle milk and juice cartons, rinsed out
    4. Recycle plastic bottles, tubs, and jugs (with #1,2,5); plastic bottle tops need to be fixed to the bottle.
    5. Clean cans and jars. Dispose of broken glass in the trash, since it will contaminate the other recyclables.
    6. A general rule is not to recycle anything smaller than a credit card. Those items can jam the sorting machine.

The best thing we can do to reduce plastic waste is to look for alternatives. Choose products based on how they are packaged. Does the bread you are looking at purchasing have a hard plastic shell and a plastic bag around it? Choose the packaging with the least environmental footprint. Take cloth bags to the store, not only for your checkout, but also for the individual pieces of fruit and vegetables you are buying. Shop at a farmer’s market with your own bags. And encourage your legislators to pass corporate accountability laws for the environment.

Take action by telling Congress to pass the The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2021. This comprehensive legislation holds big plastic manufacturers and polluters responsible, rather than consumers or communities. It pauses construction on any new plastic-making facilities and begins to phase out single-use plastic products that aren’t recyclable. Sign this petition and/or write to your Congressional representatives.

“The Heaven of heavens is the Lord’s,
But He entrusted the earth to its people.”
Psalm 115:16


Showing 3 comments
  • Jon & Janet A Burrows

    Thank You Kip and Sarah, Sent this lewtter on to my Congrssional Rep. Elise Stefanik. I’m banking on her to at least realize this issue is up and coming and we won’t sit back without a whole lot of awareness and teaching. Godspeed.

  • Julie Blissert

    Note that the recycling tips here may be in line with Onondaga County’s rules but not necessarily with other counties’ practices. For example, Oswego County accepts plastic food containers #1 – 7 and does not take caps or lids.

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