Recycling: Problems and solutions

Posted on February 7, 2020 by Sonoma Valley Sun

Reader Opinion by Maggie Bedord

It is likely that you are aware that trash disposal has become an enormous problem.  Oceans are polluted with waste which is killing sea life and polluting our food. China has stopped taking our recyclables and landfills are overflowing and expensive to maintain.  Plastic is a huge part of the problem.

My husband Russ and I thought we were being good citizens by composting, taking our groceries home in reusable bags and recycling bottles and soda cans. We even wash and reuse plastic produce bags. 

Recently I had a jarring wake-up call.  As I was preparing to start the day, I noticed that I brushed my teeth with a plastic toothbrush using toothpaste squeezed from plastic tube.  I removed the plastic lid from my makeup and applied lipstick from a plastic tube. My face soap and toner come in blue plastic bottles with a convenient plastic pump. I felt heartsick when I realized how much plastic there is throughout our home.

The enormity of the problem really registered when we had a coffee at a local coffee shop.  They had two receptacles for waste, one marked “trash” and the other “landfill.” They were both filled with the same thing. Trash overflowed from barrels outside. Everything ended up in the landfill.

I think most of us really care about the planet and do not realize the immensity of the problem nor are we well educated on what we can do. I decided to learn more and to share some of what I learned. The situation is serious but there are good things happening.  Recycling is an area where we can contribute. I have hope but the planet needs all of us to participate.

According to a recent New York Times article, San Francisco has one of the most successful waste management programs in the country and they have reduced 80% of the waste that goes into landfills.  They use three different colored disposal bins for recyclables, trash and compost. City inspectors check barrels to see if they are filled properly. They leave tags if things are in the wrong bin and can impose fines.

A TED talk called “A Radical Plan to End Plastic Waste” by Andrew Forrest can be viewed on the “No Plastic Waste” website.  Forrest begins his talk with frightening statistics on plastic waste. He then shares a possible solution and backs it with a large personal financial donation.   According to Forrest it is now more economical to make plastic from raw fossil fuel. He proposed that by increasing the value of recycled plastic it could be collected and reused both improving the environment and creating jobs, especially in third world countries. 

To the original 3Rs of recycling, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle we add Refuse, Repair and Rot.  Refuse freebies and single-use plastics, disposable items and junk mail. Repair rather than replace and Rot which indicates composting.  Contact listed is Zero Waste Sonoma, (707) 565-3375 and

Companies that are creating new products to eliminate plastic and waste can be found online.  Dehydrated laundry soap is formed into strips and packaged in cardboard. Concentrated dish soap is sold in decomposable tubes and can be reconstituted at home or sold in hardened bars. 

Many recycling centers throughout the state have closed.  Luckily, Petaluma Re-Cycling in Petaluma remains open. Its staff is friendly and they help to recycle bottles and cans.  Legislators are proposing various recycling solutions and Governor Gavin Newsom is looking for a “comprehensive solution to this problem.”

We are not ready to eliminate plastic anytime soon but reducing its use is helpful. A good reason to stop using plastic water bottles is that according to Consumer Reports water sold in plastic bottles is not always safer than tap water. The FDA does not test bottled water for purity. It requires companies to test their own water. Consumer Reports did spot checks and found some water with dangerous levels of arsenic. One manufacturer pulled its product from store shelves due to the Consumer Reports testing.

I plan to shop with more awareness, avoid impulse buying, continue to recycle and of dispose of trash more carefully. We can all do something and together make a positive difference. 


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