Annie Leonard & Martin Bourque, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Any American school kid can recite the common wisdom for tackling our massive plastic trash problem: reduce, reuse, recycle.
But it’s not that simple.
Addressing plastic pollution has to focus far more on reducing and reusing. It is simply not a problem we can recycle our way out of.
People assume that when they toss plastic packaging into a bin, it will get collected, recycled and finally transformed into another plastic product. This is a convenient fiction, actively promoted by the plastic industry.
The reality is that much of the plastic tossed into bins ends up in landfills, or it gets shipped overseas to countries that lack infrastructure to deal with it properly.
Plastic was never recycled at a high level, and it’s even worse since 2018, when China closed its doors to imported mixed plastic waste. U.S. recyclers have shifted exports to countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, but those countries lack the capacity to handle the volume we’re sending, which has brought them new environmental problems.
Moreover, despite our willingness to move plastic waste around the world, only about 9 percent of the plastic ever made has been recycled. We just keep making more of the stuff. If your bathtub was overflowing, you wouldn’t immediately reach for a mop — you’d first turn off the tap. That’s what we need to do with single-use plastics.
Berkeley recently passed a law that moves us a step closer to that, and it’s something that should be replicated across the country. The ordinance does not simply ban plastic foodware, leaving businesses to replace it with other throwaway materials: It rejects throwaway culture altogether.
Beginning immediately, Berkeley will require that accessory items such as utensils, straws, lids and sleeves be provided by request only and that food vendors have compost bins for all customers. In January 2020, the city will also require that all disposable takeout foodware be Biodegradable Products Institute-certified compostable and that vendors charge 25 cents for hot and cold takeout cups. If a customer brings a reusable cup, the charge is not applied. And by July 1, 2020, the ordinance will require that all eat-in dining be on reusable foodware.