California’s plastic problem

In the last post, I made a suggestion to set up your kitchen so that the main waste receptacle is a compost bin. The idea is to set a limit on how much trash you send to landfill by putting compost front-and-center and creating a much smaller bin or bag for landfill waste. I set that up years ago but I was spurred to writing about it last week after seeing a news special by Monica Lam on KQED (Bay Area public television) – California’s Plastic Problem.

California’s plastic problem

Here’s the video, below which I’ll list a few key points from it:

  • If plastics were a country, it would be the fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, globally.
  • Every minute, more than 1 million plastic bags are used around the world, and most bags are used for only 15 minutes.
  • 10 million tons of discarded plastic end up in the ocean every year – that’s about one garbage truckload, every minute.
  • There are over 2400 chemicals frequently added to plastics that are potentially dangerous – for example, bisphenols, phthalates, and flame retardants. Endocrine disruptors, known toxins and some that cause intellectual disabilities.
  • Microplastics have been found in almost every sample examined – from Mt. Everest to the Mariana Trench. – Dr. Scott Coffin
  • One study found microplastics in 4 out of 6 placentas, examined. They were present on both the mother’s and the embryo’s side, indicating that microplastics are ingested by the mother and passed to her baby.
  • Of the estimated 9 billion tons of plastic that has been produced in the last 150 years, only around 9% has been recycled.
  • The amount of plastic manufactured in the US alone, generates an estimated 100 million tons of CO2 emissions. That’s the same as running fifty coal-powered power plants (500 MW)
  • In California, more than 12,000 tons of plastic end up in landfill every day. That’s about 2 kg of plastic per person each week (111 kg / year) – and that’s specifically just the plastic that ends up in landfill.

What to do about California’s plastic problem?

The news special featured a group of kids who generated almost no classroom waste for the entire year. After the students spoke to the Berkeley City Council, a law was passed that required restaurants in Berkeley to provide reusable utensils for dining in-house and compostable utensils for take-out.

A realistic guide to recycling: California’s plastic problem. Students talk to Berkeley City Council about disposables and waste. From the news special, California's Plastic Problem.
“If it is possible for a class of third graders to get all of their trash for this school year into this can, then I think it is possible for the adults of Berkeley to reduce their waste.”

Most of your waste should go to compost

I dealt with that in the last post, the best way to reduce your waste, so I won’t repeat it here. But I do want to summarize the main reasons why most (75% or more) of your waste should be going to compost:

  1. A lifestyle that’s in tune with the planet generates mostly compostable waste, i.e., mostly fresh fruit and veg.
  2. Sending organic waste to landfill is problematic as it generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas
  3. Recycling is a solution only for certain items – stop with the wish-cycling!

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