Pesky Plastics at Mac’s Place

Any environmentally oriented person will tell you that plastic is one of their biggest pet peeves, and for good reason! Most plastic containers and bottles are made up of polyethylene terephthalate or, more commonly known as PET. PET almost never degrades in landfills because only UV rays from the sun can break it down—the normal microbial process does not occur. When PET is exposed to direct sunlight for long periods of time, often as trash floating in the ocean, it releases toxic chemicals (bisphenol A (BPA) and PS oligomer). These toxins are ingested by animals, and subsequently by humans. Once a toxin becomes part of the food chain (especially through a water system) it is very hard to remove. So, conventional plastics are a big problem: they either literally poison the environment or just take up space in landfills where they likely still leak out toxins.

The obvious solution is recycling! As a self-defined environmentally-oriented person, I have been recycling all the plastic I could for most of my life. So, when I came to SMU I followed that pattern for all the plastic in Mac’s place. Just chuck it in the recycling bin, right? Single-stream, easy peasy lemon squeezy. But, guess what? Much of the plastic in Mac’s place is NOT recyclable at SMU! Mac’s place uses #6 plastic for their plastic utensils and plastic salad containers. Plastic #6 is also the infamous Styrofoam. The At SMU, only plastic numbers 1-5 and 7 are recyclable. plastic numbers identify the type of polymer which the plastic is made out of, and therefore, what is needed to melt it down and recycle it. Luckily all the accidental #6’s I carefully rinsed out and put in the recycling bin (with much ceremony and righteous sentiment!) will not interfere with the recycling process because they will be sorted at the plant. However…what a waste of time and energy!

Word to the wise: most yogurt containers, the parfait containers at Mac’s, water bottles, and detergent containers are recyclable (#1’s and #2’s)—basically all the inflexible plastics. What’s NOT recyclable are flimsy plastic bags, most plastic utensils, most clear plastic cups, and waxy paper plates, and Styrofoam- until one of you chemistry majors figures out some way to take care of pesky plastic #6.

by Gwen Carris, McElvaney E-Rep

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