When I began my attempt to create less and less garbage I knew it would mean two things, using lots of reusable materials and only buying things that can be recycled. When shopping at the grocery store the first thing that became clear was that many products are double and even triple packaged using different types of plastic or a mix of plastic and cardboard. Often the cardboard is recyclable but the plastic is not. Our first step was to stop buying these products, which includes a lot of over-processed snack foods. So that has left us with products in single packaging that is recyclable, often is plastic labeled with the 1 - 7 code. In Pittsburgh we're lucky, the city collects 1 - 5.
As I've looked into plastic recycling I've not found what I was hoping for. Most plastics, are not really REcycled, they are downcycled. Downcycling is what happens when a recyclable material is downgraded into a material that is not recyclable a second time. Metal and glass can be recycled over and over again, so can paper. Plastic though, according to what I've found, is usually only recycled once, and not into the same sort of plastic. Recycled plastic is often used in plastic lumber, plastic furniture, and other non-recyclable things. This is much better than just throwing it out the first time, but its not an ongoing sustainable cycle. Infact, downcyling does nothing to reduce the end amount of non-biodegradable material in the landfill, it'll all end up there. Downcycling does nothing to reduce the amount of virgin plastic polymers being created from fossil fuels.
Two Steps in the Right Direction
There are more and more options to buy plant based plastics. Look for those at the supermarket. If you are someone who drinks bottled water or pop (we're not) buy Pepsi products (I hate to say that, I love Coke, even though I can't remember that last time I had one). Pepsi will soon be bottled in plant based plastic (it's not yet though, so keep recycling or avoiding).
Another step you can take is to simply use reusable containers, I've already blogged on how we've begun doing this a lot more. It is the best solution and really is not that hard once you find the right place to shop. That's the key, finding the right place to shop, where you can bring your vegetable bags, returnable milk containers, and mason jars to fill with everything under the sun. I'm finding that this non-waste lent in not too hard for us because of our location in the city with The East End Co-op near by and pretty good recycling at the curb. Those of your in more difficult locations have a much harder job to figure out.