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Opinion: A few words about plastic

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PHOTO COURTESY OF UNSPLASH.COM

Don’t buy any

By Kathy Bouchard EBS CONTRIBUTOR

I have been blessed with seven lovely granddaughters—and zero grandsons, but life sometimes is unbalanced. To the best of my recollection, none of them have received a toy from me that was made of plastic. The sandwiches I made my kids for lunches were wrapped in wax paper. I’ve been recycling paper, cardboard and plastic for nearly 40 years.

So, imagine my dismay to learn that in America, only 9 percent of all the plastic we have ever used has been recycled and 12 percent of it has been burned. My used plastic was shipped, most likely, to China—which has recently closed its doors to the rest of the world’s recycled plastic—and quite possibly found its way into the ocean. Further, with plastic being cheap, light and a product of natural gas, the American Petroleum Institute has plans to spend billions of dollars to increase production by 2024 to twice that of 2016.

There seems to be two camps seeking solutions to our plastic addiction. One promotes better recycling, such as what European countries are doing, but their success rate according to an August story by NPR sees to only 30-40 percent of plastic getting recycled. There is not much money to be made by recycling in the United States so far, so it is difficult to produce a product like shoes or decking materials and be profitable. For that reason, the demand for virgin plastic far exceeds that of previously used plastic.

The other camp promotes reducing or eliminating plastics as frequently as possible, especially single-use plastics like water bottles, shopping bags, straws and cutlery. It requires a change of habit, but we in Rotary Club of Big Sky are pushing in that direction.

The Sustainability Committee of Rotary has worked with Outlaw Partners and the Gallatin River Task Force to eliminate single-use plastic bottled water at the PBR events and Peak to Sky concert, plus Town Center and Roxy’s. We’re also working with YES Compost to add compost collection and transition the food and beverage vendors at the Farmers Market to compostable containers. Additionally, we’ve expanded recycling collection at the Farmers Market by using our blue collection cans from the Music in the Mountains concerts.

There are quite a few vendors looking to fulfill the relatively new demand for plastic-free packaging. It is possible to buy toothpaste tablets in glass containers. I have bought paper products like toilet paper and paper towels delivered in a large cardboard box, each wrapped in colorful shiny paper. Bulk items like shampoos, cooking oils and cereals can be purchased by using repurposed plastic or glass containers. My latest purchase was a bar of shampoo that arrived in a metal container.

Instead of paying to bottle and transport water that is used in liquid cleaners, some companies will ship their cleaning supplies in concentrate or powder to be reconstituted with water by their customers. Additionally, in the northeastern states, Loop (loopstore.com) is a company that sends customers everything from ice cream to juice boxes in returnable containers via UPS. Once the product is used, the container goes into a bin that, when filled with others, goes back to the vendors who wash and use the containers for fresh products. I’m hoping this idea expands quickly.

We will pay a premium for this return to the 1940s style of packaging. The use of plastic has an awful price beyond its convenience. Consider how you can use less: use your personal hydration device or buy your water in boxes, and carry a reusable shopping bag wherever you go.

This is the first of several articles by the Rotary Club of Big Sky that will explore various aspects of plastic in our country.

Kathy Bouchard is a member of Rotary Club of Big Sky.

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