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The Problem with Plastic: Us

Updated: Feb 27, 2023

Shout out to the anti-hero in all of us.


Before we begin on us however, one important thing to note. The same forces that co-opted the recycling logo and brainwashed us all into thinking there was a feasible way to recycle plastic have come together to put the onus for action on us. Campaigns from oil giants encourage you to measure your carbon footprint. Offset your airplane miles. Make better decisions at your home (not ours). Our friend Jay made a great video about this a couple years back for Earth Day where he explains the origins of the consumer carbon footprint. Go watch it, we'll wait.


Absurd isn't it? Not to toot our own horn (hey it is our website!), but taking responsibility for the entire lifecycle of a product is one of the key promises we make about our products at Switch. We believe every manufacturer should be made to embrace Extended Producer Responsibility and be liable for their products even after they pass their use-by dates. In doing so, companies will design products with materials that are easily recycled if needed (like ours), and ideally design them with re-use in mind. Recycling has been presented as a panacea to all our problems, but the truth is it's the worst of the good options we have.


Anyway....


When the latest Greenpeace report dropped last October, NPR again followed up on its plastics reporting looking at what was happening here in the US.


The result is that plastic trash has few markets — a reality the public has not wanted to hear. Trent Carpenter, the general manager of Southern Oregon Sanitation, says when they told customers a couple years ago that they could no longer take any plastic trash other than soda bottles and jugs — like milk containers and detergent bottles — people were upset. They wanted to put their strawberry containers, bags, yogurt cups and all manner of plastic trash in their recycling bin. "We had to re-educate individuals that a great deal of that material is ending up in a landfill," Carpenter said. "It's not going to a recycling facility and being recycled. It's going to a recycling facility and being landfilled someplace else because [you] can't do anything with that material."

At the heart of this idea is a seemingly contradictory thought: if we want to recycle more plastic, we need to put more of it into the trash. In doing so, the quality of the plastic going into recycling centers improves and the industry as a whole can start to move towards recycling these products profitably.


So where does that leave us? It doesn't feel like we have a lot of good options does it? There are a few things we've been doing at Switch in our own homes to try and lighten the load on the planet, though we also want to say this is not hard and we all have a limited amount of time to try and do better while also staying sane. It's in the interests of staying sane that we have a few links to companies or products meeting us where we are at in our every day lives instead of demanding behaviorally-unsustainable changes. None of these options are perfect, but if we wait around for perfection the planet is just going to burn anyway.


First, New York is trying to become the fifth state (after California, Colorado, Maine and Oregon) to pass an Extended Producer Responsibility bill for packaging. Those in New York, send your State representative a note expressing your support for this bill. Along these same lines, California is also looking into whether it can hold oil companies responsible for their lies regarding plastic recycling. Nothing to be done by the average consumer but we'll be watching this with interest.


Closer to home, Nic has started getting all his kitchen and bathroom basics from Grove Collaborative. They do a good job of making it easy to refill and re-use everyday cleaning items, while other household staples like tissues are made from bamboo which is a wonderfully sustainable material.


Our friends at Deliver Zero are working with the restaurant industry to have them adopt reusable packaging on take out. If you're in New York you might have seen them show up when ordering food your app of choice, we've been using them and it's a great way to reduce the amount of plastic going into recycling bins each week.


I'm also a fan of Native Deodorant, and they now have product that comes entirely plastic-free.


The point of all this, is waiting around for a silver bullet is not an option. But by making small changes in who you buy from you can start to tilt the balance back in the planet's favor.


Speaking of, today is a great day to start getting plastic out of your work-life. Remember: we can't switch planets, so let's Switch everything else.

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