It’s the Little Things…

I spend a lot of time mulling over blog posts, that eventually get forgotten, stuck in the “draft posts” folder, accumulating dust and never seeing the light of day. But the beauty of a blog is that it can be anything: off-the-cuff musings and/or fully researched articles. I like a healthy combination of both and so, I have a new tactic: just write and publish the darned post, as it happens, even if the finished product isn’t perfect and beautiful.

That brings us to the point of this post. I find inspiration for this blog in the things others may find mundane or may typically overlook as something of a non-issue. Examples include:

  •  Food retail outlets using way too much plastic packaging (drives me absolutely mental while some may not even see the plastic as a problematic);
  • Coffee shops serving beverages in takeaway cups despite customers then sitting in the shop (what an absolute waste of resources!); and
  •  Recently, hotels and the way they accessorize their rooms.

It’s this last bullet I’d like to highlight. This past week, I’ve been traveling around BC with my better half, and we’ve stayed in a myriad of hotels, motels, and something called a “boutique hotel” (is “boutique” the new “in” word?). Given that we are both into the whole #plasticsux thing, we usually base our opinion of a place in part on what products the hotel leaves for guests. “What are they equipping the in-room coffee tray with?” and “What toiletries are provided in the bathroom?” are usually the first things we’re wondering as we step into the room.

Context: lately, I’ve become totally jaded by hotels that appear lovely on the surface, but then litter their rooms with plastic crap. I imagine a place that has nice beds, towels, and an excellent shower to also follow through on the little things but as it turns out, this is not always the case! Last summer, we checked in at The Best Western in Fernie, and were impressed with its outward appearance, but totally let down by the sheer amount of packaged stuff in the rooms. It made me want to vomit. 😑


So when you land in a space, do a walk around the room and find no plastic, it’s like the stars have aligned. This week, that happened at every single hotel (and so far, we’re up to 5, so that’s saying something!). The coolest part about this is that 4 out of the 5 places have been little motels, no chain affiliation, in the middle of nowhere.

Funky accommodations in Revelstoke!
Which begs the question: if a small, one-off place is able to provide ceramic coffee mugs and actual glass water glasses, and paper-wrapped soap without any of the other unnecessary plastic tubes of bad shampoo, why is it that a mammoth corporation like Best Western, is offering lame styrofoam cups and plastic-wrapped plastic cups (I still haven’t figured out what the f*ck is up with that) and passing it off as cost-saving measures?! Surely they don’t need to cut costs, what with the amount of traffic they see and their clientele.

Authenticity is ceramic and glass. ❀️
So to the small-town motels, still offering these little reminders that we are capable of drinking coffee out of a real mug without breaking it, I thank you. It is these little things that give me hope, and that make me want to come back, if only for the chance at holding on to a piece of something authentic.

And, if you find yourself in BC looking for a quiet, authentic place to rest your weary, adventure-filled body, here are some recommendations! πŸ˜‰

SPI

In case you were wondering (because I was), SPI stands for the Society of the Plastics Industry, Inc. These guys came up with the resin identification code (in 1988, a great year)! I have been wondering about this ever since I got interested in plastics and finally found an answer. You might have seen these numbers (ID codes) affixed to all of your soda/milk/laundry detergent bottles as well as Nalgenes, car parts, cosmetic cases…I could go on for forever.

Anyway, the focus of my paper is the recycling aspect and as part of my project, I want to have a section describing the history of recycling. In order to talk about the plastics and how they are recycled, I first need to know what each is made up of. So, to keep it straight in my head (because I’m constantly mixing up 3 and 6…) I’m going to make a list! The SPI site also had free PDF downloads of the resin ID code images (all 7 of them) which I thought was pretty cool. If I ever feel the urge to print out a bunch of #7s (and produce more waste), I’ll have the official image…

Here’s the list, along with some tidbits about why they’re so darned GREAT.

#1: Polyethylene Terephthalate – PET or PETE. Most commonly used to bottle carbonated beverages but can also house water, sport drinks (seeing a pattern here?), salad dressing, peanut butter jars and oven-ready pre-packaged food (yum). The reason this plastic is so ubiquitous is because it’s clear (aesthetics, consumers can see what they’re buying), it resists heat (according to the SPI website…I’m not buying that) and it acts as a barrier to gas, which means it won’t explode when filled with bubbly soda.

#2: High Density Polyethylene – HDPE. Most commonly Β used in milk and laundry detergent bottles as well as yogurt cups and cereal box liners. Used because the chemical makeup allows it to be pliable but durable, it resists moisture and is easily formed and processed.

Here’s where it gets tricky…

#3: Polyvinyl Chloride – PVC. Used in food packaging! Also a component in construction projects (piping, window frames, floor tiles) and found in wire insulation. PVC is used because it is extremely durable, resists grease, oil and other chemicals (impermeable) and it is easy to blend (note: not sure what this means yet, but I’ll find out).

#4: Low Density Polyethylene – LDPE. Used as a plastic film because of its extreme flexibility and toughness, and is used to make lids for bottles. Used for frozen food bags, bread bags and squeezable bottles (think condiments).

#5: Polypropylene – PP. Found in ketchup bottles and yogurt cups and large, molded car parts. This plastic has a high melting point, meaning it is suitable for applications where heat is a factor (hence car parts).

#6: Polystyrene – PS. Versatile (how descriptive…). You may recognize this plastic the next time you pick up a CD, because PS is what makes up that jewel case of yours. Also found in grocery store meat trays, hard-plastic drink-ware and is a major component of summer-time picnics. You may be thinking “but meat trays and plastic cups don’t look anything alike!” Let’s get back to that versatile bit. Polystyrene can be produced as a rigid plastic or “foamed” (meat trays, styroFOAM)…this is something I’m still getting over and still puzzled about. But never fear, I will come up with an answer!

and last but certainly not least….the name sake of this very blog!Β #7! No complicated chemistry jargon in the name, this plastic is simply known as “other.” Descriptive, right? Well, SPI had to come up with something for the rest of the plastic stuff…anyway, there are two reasons this plastic is classified as such: 1) It it is composed of plastics other than #s 1-6 OR 2) it is made up of a combo of #s 1-6 in a “multilayered combination” (sort of like a cake). You’ll find #7 in reusable water bottles (anybody holding onto a Nalgene?) and the big water-cooler bottles the office-folk like to crowd around. This plastic is used in long-term applications and as such, is harder to recycle…and theoretically if it’s not getting recycled, it’s getting thrown away, and could be getting into the ocean…hence “sevenintheocean.” The connection has been made!

What I also found interesting on SPI’s website was that it noted that most of the plastics we are allowed to recycle are numbers 1 and 2 (these two categories represent 96% of all plastic bottles and containers used in the US) and that this is ok. The justification here is that since we mostly just consume plastics 1 and 2, it’s ok that we can’t recycle 5 and 6 right now. I’m sorry, but no, that is not OK.

I think that’sΒ enoughΒ shouting about plastic for the night. Β You can start to see why plastic recycling isn’t as straightforward as it seems! There is a lot of room for ambiguity, consumers get confused over which number is what and unfortunately, most recycling facilities aren’t equipped with machinery to process plastic films and used food/beverage containers. More research to be done!

Conclusion:Β become aware of what you purchase. The plastics industry doesn’t want you to know which plastics you’re consuming, that’s why they put the numbers on the bottom of containers! Go into the store sometime and see how many items you can pick up not wrapped, packaged or bottled in plastic. It is frustrating.