Plastic `down-cycles' its way to the dump.
Remember when you slipped a quarter into a vending machine and out tumbled a thick, worn-down, spiral-shaped glass bottle? That bottle contained your favorite soda and, during its lifespan, that bottle delivered refreshing beverages to many others as well.
Low-cost plastic bottles have since swept into the beverage container landscape and nudged reusable glass aside. Plastic bottles are lightweight, durable, and can be resealed. We recycle plastic containers into many products such as carpet, decking lumber, textiles and insulation.
When plastic is recycled, recyclers call it "down-cycled," meaning that every time you recycle plastic, it loses value in the marketplace. In a "down-cycle," the material eventually cycles into a product that has no recycle market.
Plastic milk jugs are a valuable material because they are made from a pure source of natural plastic and can be recycled into many different products, such as composite lumber, many types of textiles, park benches and toys.
Lumber, a fleece jacket and a park bench all have limited lifespans, so where do you take these materials when their time is up?
When there are no markets, the landfill is their final destination. This is down-cycling.
Should you care about recycling plastics if they are just going to eventually end up as products that have no recycle market?
Absolutely, because if you take the recycled plastic away from these markets, the alternative to make these products would be virgin material, which results in a net loss for the environment.
Back to the vintage glass bottle. Glass is a recycler's dream. It can be recycled an infinite amount of times into the exact same product, and it has the best potential for reuse.
Container glass is made from a mixture of sand, soda ash, limestone and color additives. Soda ash makes the sand melt at a lower temperature, limestone makes the glass stronger, and sand, of course, is the basic building block for glass.
In addition to environmental benefits, glass containers preserve a better quality food or drink product.
But glass is a heavy material that's difficult to transport and breaks easily. When glass is contaminated, it loses value, but fortunately, it has various markets in abrasives, fiberglass and aggregates for roads and sidewalks. Glass also makes excellent lubricants, core additives and fluxes in metal foundry fabrication.
In order to get the products that we enjoy, we all use glass and plastic in various ways. Our responsibility as consumers is to value our resources, know where they come from and know where they are going. Glass and plastic containers have distinct advantages and disadvantages in the consumer marketplace and in terms of environmental impacts.
The ideal choice for the environment, hands down, is reusing containers. Numerous grocery stores in Lane County provide options to buy products in bulk, the perfect opportunity to show off your environmental awareness and reuse glass and plastic containers. Some good examples of food that you can buy with reusable containers include baking goods, nuts, spices, dried fruit and vegetables, dried foods, pasta, rice, cereal, beans, pet food and even cleaners.
Unlike the reusable glass container systems of yesterday, we may not have the opportunities to share containers with our community at large, but we can share them among family and friends.
If you have the choice, support businesses that reuse glass containers. Remember the mantra of the recycler: Reduce, Reuse and then Recycle.
This column is provided by Lane County Recycling.
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|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Feb 8, 2004|
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