I’ve finally come to terms with how an international change in recycling policy is affecting the way materials are being handled locally — or not being handled, which is closer to the truth.
You can read my posts about this HERE and HERE if you need a more thorough recap, but the Reader’s Digest condensed version is simply that all recycling in our county is going straight to the landfill because we don’t have a Plan B when it comes to transforming our recyclables into usable products. Our Plan A has always been to toss everything in one bin, ship that sucker to Portland and let their material recycling facilities sort it out for us, then send it on to China.
China is no longer accepting recyclables with more than .5 contamination rates, and our facilities can’t get down to that level (because people are idiots, basically, myself included). Moreover, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality hasn’t quite figured out what to do about it all yet. Ergo, all recyclables in our county are trashed, although we’re supposed to keep recycling as usual for now.
(Partly because they don’t want us to get out of the habit, but mostly because if we start tossing things in the garbage, trash rates are going to go up and people are going to rebel.)
Anyway, all of that is just to say that I’ve decided that, until “they” figure out what our next step is, I have to take the bull by the horns and do what I can to limit our family’s trash output. The good news is that we have lots of great habits in place because of my zero waste Simple Year. The bad news is that I have let some items back into our lives with the idea that they come in recyclable packages, so while not great, it’s not terrible, either.
Well, now it IS terrible. Hello, Johanna’s favorite yogurt!
During my weekly grocery trip on Saturday, I did my best to reduce the amount of trash filling my cart — that’s how I look at the food I purchase now, since most of its packaging IS trash. This means there’s a new hierarchy of purchases. I did my usual spin around the produce aisle, got my shampoo, conditioner and dish soap in bulk (not zero waste for the store, but trash-free for me in my own containers), as well as bulk items like dried cranberries and maple syrup (I know, STUPID LUCKY).
Because I can sort out cardboard and tin cans to take directly to our transfer station — those things will be recycled as long as they are clean and prepped properly, i.e. flattened and label free — I figure those are “bye” items on the ol’ grocery list. I didn’t have much of that this time, though, as fate would have it. What did make it into my cart that I hate, but can’t figure out a way around: I just tested positive for a wheat/gluten allergy (and corn, peanuts, cane and maple sugar, yeast, nightshades — damn the luck, tomatoes are my life! — and lactose, but not dairy, because my jerk of a stomach likes to be ironic). I purchased a package of spelt tortillas and a loaf of gluten-free bread (which is … well, gross, but not as gross as I expected).*
I have to live on something besides coffee and chocolate (apparently my gut is okay with those, I must be getting rewarded for good behavior), so these are now my own bye items (along with Eric’s cereal and bread, and Johanna’s potato chips).
I came to the conclusion long ago that zero waste isn’t possible, but minimal waste is, and now thanks to policies beyond my control, I have greater motivation to put what I know into practice. And I still think that individual responsibility is the way to go, even when policies get sorted out. That’s the goal, I suppose: To do what we can in the confines of our own situations.
*P.S., in case anyone is worried: These foods affect my stomach to varying degrees ranging from twingey to full-on death (or it just feels like I’m dying). This is in addition to my longstanding artificial preservatives/colors/flavors allergy. But I will not stop breathing. So that’s a plus.