Editor’s note: Today’s editorial originally appeared in the Eugene (Ore.) Register-Guard. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.
Lane County has come up with an intriguing way to boost plastic recycling: Turn it over to county residents.
The county is scrapping its highly successful plastic roundups and instead will train volunteers to serve as community collectors. Their role will be to gather at least two cubic yards of a category of plastic before making an appointment to drop off the plastic for recycling. Two cubic yards is roughly the size of a pickup bed or a washer and dryer.
Unless you sign up as a community collector yourself, this means you must find a collector willing to take, store and haul your recycled plastic. That collector could be a neighbor, business, church or other group.
County officials hope eventually to have 300 collectors. Even if that goal is achieved, it will be inadequate to handle all the plastic that should be recycled — No. 2, 4 and 5 bottles, jugs, tubs and lids, all clean and correctly sorted and separated by type. We simply exist in a society obsessed with plastic, an obsession that is polluting the world. The only cure is to get people to use less plastic in the first place.
Although Lane County is shifting the recycling collection and storage burden to volunteers, the county and cities should step up their game by teaching people how to overcome their plastics habit.
There is much that residents and businesses can do, such as forgoing single-use plastic cutlery, cups and other containers; using bar soap — you can make your own — instead of plastic bottles of hand soap; and buying freshly sliced or bulk products instead of the meat, vegetables and other items that come packaged in plastic.
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Those and other practical ideas have been around for years, yet plastic has proliferated. If county residents and businesses actually are going to change their habits, governments and environmental organizations must change their approach.
The no-plastics gospel must be spread with the flair and fervor of a county fair vendor. Staff and volunteers from government and nonprofits should be out in force at farmers markets, civic events and events and other gatherings — enthusiastically demonstrating alternatives to plastic products, patiently answering questions and encouraging people to make personal commitment. Businesses that shun plastic packaging and embrace zero waste should be given center stage, which in turn will encourage other businesses to copy them.
Consumers often don’t know where to start. The American Red Cross, EWEB and similar organizations provide a good example for how to answer that question with respect to emergency preparedness. They guide people in how to develop emergency kits over time by taking one specific step each month.
Lane County has a solid rationale for halting the plastics roundups. The good done by the collections was undercut by the resulting carbon output of motorists. At the roundup in April, people brought in almost 7.5 tons of plastic, but they also arrived in more than 1,000 vehicles.
That is the type of analysis that should be prevalent in educating the community about overcoming plastic: what people realistically can do without inadvertently harming the environment in other ways.
The path to zero waste is a journey of both personal responsibility and government leadership.