Monday, October 21, 2019

The problem with plastic ~ my column from Sunday's paper

I think I can narrow down the time that America strayed off course. I'm not sure what year it was, but company executives decided to focus on the bottom line instead of the health of the planet. These executives began offering soft drinks and beer in disposable bottles instead of ones that required a deposit.

Maybe they thought that landfill space was unlimited. They probably believed that no self-respecting
customer would toss a bottle or can out the window of their car.

They should have realized that when there is no incentive to return the bottles, there is no reason to hold on to them. It became a no-brainer to toss them out the window and get them out of the way.

The problem started with glass bottles, which was bad enough, but then came the plastic ones. Companies chose plastic because it was cheap, and it was convenient for the consumer. Later, companies began offering coffee, tea, water, and other one-time use drinks in disposable containers. But the cost associated with a disposable society was hidden – at first.

Another downside of this one corporate decision was that it put millions of industrious kids out of a job. Even when I was too young to work an after-school job, I walked miles of roads looking for deposit bottles, which were glass gold. They supplemented my meager allowance.

Mom and Dad bought me a bicycle, but I paid for new handlebar streamers, a tire pump, a squawk horn, and other add-ons by picking up glass bottles. I also have an Old Timer pocket knife in the souvenir box on my dresser that I bought with money I earned picking up bottles when I was 12 years old.

Once the incentive to pick up bottles was removed, kids lost interest in picking them up, so they let them lie. 

Plastic waste tossed into a garbage bin or on the side of the road doesn't go away. It takes a plastic soda bottle 1,000 years to biodegrade.

There is a floating island of plastic garbage in the Pacific that is twice the size of Texas. If you think I'm kidding, Google it.

If communities provided an easy way to recycle plastic, that would help. But with limited budgets, it's hard for cities and counties to justify the expense of large-scale recycling.

Some progressive areas bit the bullet, and I'm reading more and more about good things that happened as a result.

 I read where some companies are using recycled plastic in creative ways. Some make shoes, clothes, rugs, and thousands of other useful products.

Aluminum cans are a little better because there is a market for aluminum. I often see people walking the roadsides picking up cans, but you have to pick up a mountain of cans to make a few bucks. A July estimate for aluminum was a little over a penny per can.

The garbage problem will probably not become untenable in my lifetime. You can bet our children and their children will have to deal with it. I'm guessing they will say unkind things about us for not recycling.

The idea for this column came to me on our morning walk when I discovered an old glass non-deposit Pepsi bottle in the woods behind our barn. The bottle had been discarded by the people who rented the property in the late 1960s before we bought it.

Thankfully, Mother Nature found a creative way to recycle the bottle by converting it into a beautiful terrarium. 


  1. Sigh. It is a world-wide problem now. And a growing one.

  2. We in the USA are doing better than some countries, and that is ot saying too much. But we have pulled into ports in the beautiful Mediterranean that was nearly blocked with trash.
    Yes we need to get a handle on the problem, I do miss returnable bottles. I earned a lot picking them up and didn't even have to wash them.
    Sherry & jack PS good column!

  3. PS2 I am always amazed at the folks on the carry a bottle of water everywhere you go, and drop the plastic. I am astounded at the plastic used to spread water. OUCH

  4. A great article. It infuriate me at the amount of plastic in the ocean, water ways and on the roadsides. People are just starting to wake up but some politicians are still blind to the problem. When a flood or hurricane or tsunami comes, the waste is carried with the current and finds it way in a body of water where it create havoc with marine life and our own life.
    Hugs, Julia

  5. My mother decided to gather bottles and cans to turn them in. She deposited all the funds into a special bank account. She was saving to buy a car. In practically no time she bought a used car and the insurance for it. All of the money came from her collecting bottles. She continued collecting and kept her car in gasoline and repair. It cost her nothing but some time.

  6. You've used a different photo for this post. The one you used for the shorter version was better suited.

  7. Great article. Thank you for shedding light on this serious problem.

  8. I remember looking for bottles when I was kid but I only did it a couple of times. I always preferred glass over the plastic not knowing how bad plastic really was/is. It is disgusting how much plastic is all around especially that huge one in the pacific. Are they trying to clean up that huge amount of plastic? It would be nice to learn this.


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