Plastic: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly Webinar Follow-Up

RethinkWaste held a webinar about plastic on October 27, 2020. This page provides the webinar recording, presentation slides, links to more resources, and all of the questions submitted by attendees. If you have additional questions, fill out the form at the bottom of the page.

Learning the history of plastic and staying informed on the issues it brings in our own community is the first step to face the plastic crisis. We hope you find the following resources helpful in making informed decisions when it comes to plastic, curbing your own plastic use, and supporting plastic legislation.

To view a recording of the webinar and the live Q&A, click the recording below.

1. Where does black plastic come from and why is it so bad?

Black plastic is often used for takeout containers, plastic utensils, and packaging. It’s often found as a single-use plastic, plastic that is designed to only be used once before being disposed. Black plastic is considered “bad” because it often isn’t able to be recycled. Black plastic usually can’t be recycled for a few different reasons. First, it cannot be identified using optical sorters, which is common technology that Materials Recovery Facilities across the United States use to identify the different types of plastic. Additionally, there is little to no market for black plastic, in other words, very few companies are buying back black plastic to be recycled.

2. Why can’t we recycle more plastic in the medical field, hotel/motels, and hot lunch programs?

Recycling only works if there are markets for all of these materials. One of the big reasons we don’t recycle everything is that not everything has a market. Another possible reason that we don’t see much recycling in these different fields could be regulations. Especially with the medical field where there are regulations surrounding what they can and can’t do with waste. As for businesses, often it’s up to the owner to establish a recycling program. Luckily business owners and schools can receive help on setting up programs through their waste service provider.

3. I find that I’m in the minority when it comes to recycling & composting. Can you work with schools so that they teach students how to recycle? If students learn how to recycle at school, they can bring that info. back to their homes.

RethinkWaste has a whole team devoted to working with schools. Our Environmental Education Team mostly focuses on educating and implementing programs at public elementary schools in the RethinkWaste service area with the goal of reaching all students across the service area. Additionally, the San Mateo County Office of Sustainability also works to educate students in our community.

4. What can local electeds do policy-wise to make a difference?

Local elected officials can support local ordinances that help reduce plastic in our environment, including San Mateo County’s Disposable Food Service Ware Ordinance that is aimed to reduce the amount of disposable food service ware, especially those made of plastic, from food facilities in the unincorporated areas of San Mateo County. Currently four cities in the County have also adopted this ordinance.

5. How is it possible for 1000 tons of plastic to accidentally enter the ocean through SMC residents?

This statistic was found by research conducted through the Thrive Alliance. Here is the link to the report if you are interested in learning more: https://www.thrivealliance.org/env-news-blog/storyofplastic.

6. I participated in the Coastal Clean Up day, which due to COVID-19, was held within our respective communities. After 90 minutes we had 6 large bags of trash. At the end of the pickup, we drove to the Rethink collection center. The fee at the drop off center was substantial. Would RethinkWaste consider a partnership with Coastal Clean Up where residents within the JPA get a discount on this day?

This has not been previously considered, but please contact us directly at info@rethinkwaste.org. Note that there are mechanisms in place where cities can collect the waste picked up during public cleanup events such as Coastal Cleanup and have it collected by the waste hauler.

7. In addition to the Disposable Food Service Ware Ordinance, what local initiatives, organizations or resources would you recommend for folks looking to help create change around plastic in San Mateo County?

8. Do you currently have an established program to communicate with San Mateo/Foster City area restaurants not to use the black plastic specifically? If not, we are thinking maybe my local community can volunteer to help.

We do not, but reach out to us and we can help. We also recommend reaching out to the San Mateo County Office of Sustainability via their Sustainability Academy.

9. How about the #4 soft plastic that you can drop off at Safeway. Does that get recycled?

This depends. The drop-off recycling program at grocery stores for flimsy plastics like plastic bags and plastic wrap are completely independent programs. For us at RethinkWaste, we no longer collect plastic bags at the Shoreway Public Recycling Center because we haven’t been able to find any markets for it. As we noted earlier, items are only recyclable if someone will purchase the material and recycle it into something else. These other programs may have markets, but it really depends by location. Check with your local store to inquire about where their collected flimsy plastics currently go.

10. Who do I speak to about getting recycling into the medical field, specifically who is producing these disposable items?

Our advice would be to do your research and seek help when possible. If you know anyone that works at your local clinic or hospital, they could connect you to the person in charge of purchasing. Also, you can do research on the supplies that are used in the medical field and the manufacturers to see if there are other options instead of disposable or if there are takeback/recycling options for these supplies.

11. If you do a full life-cycle analysis to consider plastic alternatives, how does it pencil out in terms of carbon footprint and GHGs considering glass and metal weighs more than plastic so shipping products in glass etc. may actually be a bigger footprint?

We do not have an answer to this question. However, here is a good article about the differences between glass, metal, and plastic packaging: https://earth911.com/living-well-being/recycled-beverage-containers/.

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