Plastics and the R’s of sustainability management

Our last three articles led to the following observations and conclusions:

Plastics are indispensable materials and are completely part of our lives. Our consumption has and will continue to exponentially grow. Due to the complexity of plastics technology, the cost of municipal waste disposal, and the mismanagement of our waste, only 8-10% of our plastics consumption enters the recycling stream. Nearly 80% of all our plastics municipal waste ends up in landfills and will remain an environmental nuisance, and in many cases a threat, for the next several hundred years. This is a problem that our grandchildren, great-grandchildren and beyond will be dealing with. And all because of the choices that WE made before they were even born.

Over 20 years ago, environmentalists and waste management specialists initiated a new thinking process around our waste. It was initially described as the “3Rs concept” and later evolved to the 5Rs, and then the 6Rs of waste management. With so much riding on the decisions that we make today, now is a perfect time to re-educate ourselves about the concept of sustainability. In other words, we can’t continue to produce waste as we currently do; we must change our behavior.

There have been several versions of the 5Rs of waste and sustainability, but the most common version includes Recycle, Reduce, Reuse, Refuse, and Recover. Over the years, many organizations have had their own versions of the 5Rs, hoping to encourage others to live sustainably. Other versions included Respect, Rethink, Reinvent, and Responsibility, among others. Sustainability is an issue that we all can and should take responsibility for.

In the coming weeks, EnviroPerks will introduce our own perspective on the Rs of sustainability–the 6Rs. We can’t wait to share it with our loyal readers and members. Keep reading our blogs to learn more about the 6Rs very soon. In the meantime, remember to practice recycling every day.  As end-users, we must recognize the need to recycle all materials that can be recycled–including plastics. Plastic bottles are the most common plastics that are recycled. For the others plastics, we must Rethink and Reinvent how to handle them. It starts with making the right choices. Before we introduce you to the 6Rs, we’d like to reacquaint you with a few Rs that you are probably very familiar with.

Recycle everything that can be recycled. Learn your local waste stream rules, what can and can’t be recycled. Most of our food packaging plastics waste can’t be recycled due to contamination with organic waste (food). Plastics intended for recycling must be clean and free of residue.

Reduce. This is absolutely key to sustainability. Reduce your contribution to our municipal waste. This can be done by repairing things rather than replacing them and reusing items that can be reused. Consider starting your own compost heap to further reduce the amount of waste that goes to the landfill.

Refuse plastic bags when shopping. The 5 trillion unrecyclable plastic bags produced each year around the world have a usage life of 20 minutes on average before being trashed. Such a short amount of useful time for something that stays in our eco-system for 10 to 1,000 years!

There are many ways to look at sustainability as it applies to the solid waste stream, but in the end, there is one thing that is perfectly clear: if we want our planet to survive and thrive we MUST change our consumer behaviors. And as Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

We look forward to sharing more with you soon. The 6Rs are coming! Get ready to look at sustainability in a new and innovative way that will change the way you buy, use, and dispose of everything!