Written by Phoebe Dominguez 

Plastic is the thing invading our homes, oceans, and freshwater. It’s hard to go a day without encountering plastic, but what exactly is plastic? How do we reduce, reuse, and recycle plastic, and what needs to be taken out of the equation?

Plastic, noun: a synthetic material made from a wide range of organic polymers such as polyethylene, PVC, nylon, etc., that can be molded into shape while soft and then set into a rigid or slightly elastic form.

Above you see the definition of plastic: a synthetic material made from fossil fuels.

But who makes it, and where does it come from? 

As we try to shut down these big polluters, they continue to do what they do best: hide from the general public and make money. Plastics are the big polluters’ lifeline. We have tried to take it away. They created the plastic recycling industry in turn. 

The idea of recycling is great, and it works well for glass and aluminum but not for plastic. We have been deceived by the recycle symbol on it, believing  plastic can or will be recycled. Even if plastic does get recycled, it can only be recycled at most one or two times. 

If it doesn’t get recycled, where does it go?

Plastic often gets dumped into the ocean or landfills, or gets shipped away to hide it from the consumer. The war on plastic is not a new thing. The first time we had a big backlash about plastics, the solution was recycling and now we are running out of solutions where we keep plastic in the picture. The plastic companies’ solution is to keep the plastic pollution problem away from the public — this is making it worse.  

As we run out of places to put plastic, the plastic industry refuses to take accountability. China is the biggest producer of plastic, but the United States by far makes the most plastic waste. As soon as we are done with it, plastic waste gets shipped somewhere else to be burned or melted into big plastic blocks to be stored. China also used to be one of the big buyers of recycled plastic nearly—it was basically the dumping grounds for our plastic but China stopped buying so much plastic when they enacted the “National Sword” Policy in 2018, which banned most imported plastic and other materials.it changed the recycling industry and how things are processed stored and how much actually gets recycled. More plastic is ending up in landfills and not getting recycled. Now, Americans have fewer places to send our plastic to.

Humans have created over 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic.

76% of that plastic is now in our wildlife, oceans, street corners, and landfills.  That is 6.3 billion metric tons.  Since the 1950s, plastic production worldwide has exploded from about 2 million tons annually to a whopping 440 million tons in 2015 and is expected to nearly quadruple in the next 30 years. If we continue on this track, by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean.

Colorado is not immune to the recycling problem or plastic pollution. Like everywhere else, you see plastic in rivers, on the ground, in landfills, and in our grocery stores.

Up until now, we have left the problem of plastics up to the consumers. Consumers have the power to buy something else, recycle and pick up litter. But the truth is that recycling has been a lie, created by the plastics industry to make their (plastic) products seem more eco-friendly. Just because something has a recycle symbol on it does not mean it can be recycled in your area. The same is true if it says 100% recyclable.”

So how are we supposed to know what to do? How are we supposed to get rid of it in a safe way?

There are many different answers, but I’m going with one: education.

As consumers, we do have the power to buy something else and to pick up litter, but that’s not the whole answer. We need to know how to dispose of the products that we buy in a safe way.  Furthermore, to do that we need to know what the product that we are buying is actually made of, packaging and all. So how do we get this information? We need producers to make this information public so we know what we are buying. There is no perfect answer, but there is a way to get on the path toward where we need to be. 

Now is the time to act on single-use plastics. 

Some places have put plastic bans on some items like plastic bags and polystyrene or Styrofoam. Colorado has a bill under consideration for the 2021 session called the Plastic Reduction Act (HB21-1162.)

The purpose of the Plastic Reduction Act is to reduce the use of single-use plastic in Colorado. The act would prevent retailers from providing plastic bags and add a 10 cent fee for each paper bag. These two changes will reduce overall bag consumption and encourage consumers to bring their own bags. Retailers may keep 40% of the paper bag fee to use toward compost, recycling, and education programs.

The Plastic Reduction Act also allows communities more power over the toxic plastics being produced and used in their areas. You can read the full bill text here.

HB21-1162 recently passed in the Senate Veterans and Military Committee and just went through the Senate Appropriations Committee and came out with some amendments. We want to see this bill pass. Here are a couple of things you can do to help: 

  • Call your state senators. Tell them that HB21-1162 is a very important bill for the well-being of Colorado. You can Look on the 350 Colorado website for more information about supporting environmental policy. 
  • Look at the programs in your area to see what can be recycled. some places you can look up your product and see if it can get recycled 
  • Try and reduce your own plastic consumption. Choose aluminum and glass instead. Check with the recycling program in your area if glass can be recycled; though it is easy to recycle, some places do not accept it because of how easily it breaks. 
  • Before recycling anything, clean it before putting it in the bin. When you clean the item it will have a higher chance of getting recycled. Choose products in recycled packaging. 
  • Don’t be fooled by a recycling sign on the bottom of a plastic container. Try and figure out if it can/will be recycled in your area by doing some research on the product in your area. 
  • Ask yourself before you buy something: What is it packaged in? What is the packaging made of? 

You can learn more about plastics pollution by checking out the following resources: 

Plastic Reduction Act (HB21-1162.) 

More about plastic production 

More about the plastic recycling industry 

More about how China enacting the National sword affected the recycling industry.