What Would A Zero-Waste World Look Like? | New Hampshire Public Radio

What Would A Zero-Waste World Look Like?

Sep 21, 2020

We’re all familiar with Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, but have we overlooked the REDUCE part? We hear about the failures of recycling, and look at practical ways we could be producing less waste in the first place. We hear from NPR reporter Laura Sullivan on her investigation: Is Plastic Recycling A Lie? Oil Companies Touted Recycling To Sell More Plastic. Email your creative ways to “slash your trash” to exchange@nhpr.org.This program is part of NHPR's climate reporting initiative, By Degrees.

Airdate: Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020


GUESTS:

  • Laura Sullivan - Correspondent, NPR Investigations and correspondent for PBS's Frontline.
  • Ryan Hvizda - She is administrator of Zero Waste New Hampshire Facebook page, also the co-owner of Bona Fide Green Goods, a store in downtown Concord focused on helping people reduce their waste and move toward a zero waste lifestyle.
  • Kirstie Pecci -  Director, Zero Waste Project for the Conservation Law Foundation. This week, September 19–25, they are holding their second annual Slash Trash Challenge. They are.challenging you to not only reduce the waste in your home, your office, and your community, but also to advocate for a future built on zero-waste policies and practices.

 

Here are 10 Tips for Going Zero Waste from the Conservation Law Foundation.

 

NHPR's Daniela Allee reported on a pilot program in Lebanon that gave a small group of residents the chance to bring not only their trash and recyclables to the local landfill, but their compost too.

 

Listen to the NPR Throughline episode called "Reframing History: The Litter Myth" about how “Keep America Beautiful” ads put responsibility for keeping the environment clean on individuals instead of manufacturers.

 

 

Transcript

 This transcript was machine-generated and will contain errors.

 

Laura Knoy:
I'm Laura Knoy, and this hour on The Exchange as part of NHPR's By Degrees Climate Reporting Project, we look at practical ways to slash your trash. And listeners send us your experiences, ideas and questions by email, its exchange at nhpr.org. Now, one huge source of trash in our landfills, oceans and in our communities is plastic. And we're going to talk first about why that's the case. Joining us now is Laura Sullivan, NPR reporter who with PBS Frontline, spent months investigating the role of oil and gas companies back in the 1970s, promoting plastics recycling. And Laura Sullivan, a big welcome. Thank you for being here.

Laura Sullivan:
Thanks so much for having me.

Laura Knoy:
So for those that haven't read your report, just to let them know you read through countless boxes of company documents, you interviewed a whole bunch of top former plastic industry officials and you concluded, Laura, that the industry for a long time promoted recycling to the public, knowing it didn't work. When did this take place and why? Laura.

Laura Sullivan:
So we begin to ask the sort of basic question that I think a lot of people have had for years now about what's happening when you throw your stuff into the blue bin or what what happens when you're walking to the airport and you're like, OK, I'll put it in the recycling thing.

Laura Sullivan:
But you look in and it's really all gross and trash and you're not sure what's happening. And so we attempted it along with a lot of people, especially after China stopped taking the trash, looked around and said, let's take a look at recycling. And we found what most people were finding is that there really aren't markets for this stuff that very at the end of the day, less than 10 percent of all plastic has ever been recycled, and that's even with China buying the stuff.

Laura Sullivan:
So the question that came up for me was how how come we didn't know that?

Laura Sullivan:
I mean, I grew up with all of these ads in the 90s. I grew up understanding that all plastic could be recycled and turned into something else and that this was really possible. And I was one of these recyclers who threw everything in saying, well, I'm sure somebody's sorting it out or it's such a big chunk of plastic. Somebody wants this. It's so valuable. And I am more people recycled in this country than vote. So it's just part of our lives.

Laura Sullivan:
And it has been for years. And I and the question I had was, if this isn't working, why have you why do we all think that this was working? And if it's not working now, has it ever worked? And I think that that led us on this journey to figure out why we all believed something that wasn't true and that the biggest question of all was really that if if this wasn't true, who told us it was? And that led us to the oil and gas company. So we ended up tracking down over almost a year at this point, dozens, dozens of officials who used to work in the industry or just on the periphery of the industry and then went in search of some of the documents from that time.

Laura Sullivan:
And so we went up to Syracuse University and the Hagley Library at the Dupont archives looking for their own documents. And what we found in these archives were just document after document showing how difficult, how expensive, how problematic plastic recycling is in a way that metals recycling is not.

Laura Sullivan:
And what you really see is just that it's it's just, you know, the virgin oil that you can make plastic bags out of, or anything else plastic out of, is so cheap that you can't get around this sort of foundational problem that it's cheaper and easier to make it out of virgin oil. And even when you do take a really solid good plastic, like a soda or water bottle, you know, they have the best numbers of all with 30 percent being recycled. And the majority of those are just getting recycled once because plastic degrades. So really, you're just talking about a momentary stop before you end up in the landfill. And I think that what was most shocking in these documents was that the oil and gas industry knew this all along.

Laura Knoy:
What were some of the comments made Laura that showed you they were well aware this wasn't going to work?

Laura Sullivan:
Yes. So, I mean, they called recycling plastic, the sorting of it, infeasible. They said it was, you can't, there's no recovery from obsolete products was one of the documents that was sent to top oil executives in the 70s. There was a speech that was given where they said it was unlikely that plastic recycling will ever be economically viable.

Laura Sullivan:
And that was given to top plastic, private top gathering and to the to the very, this is the head of Exxon. This is the head of Chevron. These are the Procter& Gamble, Dow, Dupont, their top executives. And so what we did is we went in search of the people who were there and we ended up getting three of their top officials on the record who said that what this was, was they put in this, at the same time that they're getting all this information. And their own scientists are saying this. There's all these ads on the air, that I grew up with: Plastic is amazing. Recycle your plastic. You can do it. School recycling contests and all these expensive benches outside of grocery stores that don't make any economic sense. And they were funding recycling machines that didn't make any sense. And, you know, all of the stuff. And so I asked some of them why? Why did you tell Americans to recycle when you knew the plastic recycling was unlikely to work on an economic scale, a vast scale? And the one guy who was the top lobbyist for the oil and gas industry said because if recycling, if the public thinks that recycling is working, they will not be as concerned about the environment.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah, you just squish the bottle and put it in the recycling bin, which is kind of what I do all the time or plastic. I feel fine. Right.

Laura Sullivan:
Totally. And they in the 90s were such an interesting time, too. Because even though people were embracing plastic and using it and loving it, and it is, it's a chemical marvel, this thing. But at the same time, there were these sort of anti-plastic advocates kind of like you see now. And they were saying there's too much trash, we can't have all this trash. This is not good for the environment. We can't have it in our rivers and it doesn't decompose. And it's going to survive for hundreds of years. And we can all this plastic trash, this is insane. And so they were pushing plastic bans just like you see now. And this was really what these insiders were telling us is that this push to sort of get the public to wrap their brain around "plastic can be recycled. And this is amazing," was really a way to sell more plastic and to push back on those bans and say don't ban plastic. Plastic can be recycled.

Laura Sullivan:
And there was some hope, a couple of the men, and they were all men at that time, were saying we really hoped it might work. There was one guy, Ron Liesemer, who was sent out to get plastic recycling into neighborhoods, into homes, the curbs, the bins and all the stuff. They went out to Minnesota and New York and places where these bans were popping up. And he said that they really tried. He really sort of hoped that they would get recycling launched and off the ground and sort of magically maybe the economics of it all would work out. And he said that he found what everybody else found, that at the end of the day, there were just too many different kinds of plastic.

Laura Knoy:
Actually, I'm glad you mentioned that, Laura, because I have an email from Bob in Washington, New Hampshire, not D.C. I'm continually frustrated, Bob says, trying to actually read the recycling codes on plastic containers. They are often very, very small, very difficult to read. Bob says our transfer station only recycles types one and two. All others go to the landfill. Bob says, I'd like to see product plastic packaging mandated by law to have easily readable identification as to the type of plastic. I'd also like to see the types of plastic that are not recyclable, clearly identified as such. Bob, I hear you. It would be so nice for me, Laura, to have that juice bottle say not recyclable or not recyclable in most places, but they're not going to do that.

Laura Sullivan:
Which is the truth for the vast majority of all plastic that Bob is handling. Here's a little story about the recycling codes. So some of the documents talked a lot about, I found a lot of documents about the recycling codes and tracked down some of the people involved in that. And, you know, those do not end up on plastic because it was supposed to be helpful environmentally or to help Bob and everybody else and me recycle. The codes were put on plastic, according to the industry documents, to make the public think that plastic was recyclable even when it wasn't economically recyclable. And what I found was a very quiet and very strong push in the early 90s where the oil and gas industry lobbied almost 40 states to mandate that this code be put on the bottom of plastic containers. It's the international recycling symbol with a number in the middle.

Laura Sullivan:
And they said that, you know, when I interviewed them, they said, well, this was meant to help sort plastic. We really want to help the recyclers for plastic. But there was an entire consortium of recyclers out there that said, stop, stop, stop putting this symbol on this plastic. Everybody's throwing everything in the bins. We only want soda bottles and milk jugs. We don't care what number you're putting inside of recycling symbol. Stop it. And they fought for years against the industry, saying you're making this more confusing to people than it is. It doesn't need to be this confusing. We just want soda bottles and milk jugs. And the industry fought back for years and they didn't budge. And it lasted for almost 30 years. And to this day, the public is turning over bottles looking for this recycling symbol, thinking that it tells them something valuable when it doesn't. Most recyclers on a sorting line, they can't tell the difference between a two and a four and a one. They all look like clear plastic and there's plenty of jugs that use a three. You know, there's all types of different plastic. And just because it says one doesn't mean that it's the kind of particular plastic that they want for the soda bottles.

Laura Knoy:
I think most people just through it in no matter what the number is, I don't even think most people I mean, good for you, Bob, but I think most people don't even look at the number.Laura, you still there? Laura, are you still there? Oh, it sounds like we lost our reporter, Laura Sullivan.

Laura Knoy:
It gives me a chance to remind listeners that we are talking about zero waste today on The Exchange and specifically focusing on plastic recycling right now with NPR reporter Laura Sullivan. And Laura, you're back with us. So go ahead. I was just saying, I think most people don't even look at the numbers. They just chuck it in the bin.

Laura Sullivan:
They just check it in the bin. And when you look at these documents, the oil industry and gas industry and the plastic industry knew this all along.

Laura Sullivan:
They received a report in the early 1990s that said to the top industry executives, the code is being misused. It says, you know, this is being used as a greenwashing tool. It's suggesting to people that plastic is recyclable in ways that it is not. And the industry had that report. They knew that. It went to the to the very tippy top of all these companies and they kept doing it anyway. And a lot of the recyclers said, look, like they're doing this because they want people to believe plastic is recyclable. At the end of the day, people in sorting centers cannot tell the difference between what they're looking at. They have less than a second to throw something in one direction or the other or a very expensive machine can do it. But these very expensive machines, there's just not a lot of money to be made in used plastic. So you're counting on the public to want to use plastic. Pepsi and Coke are under a lot of pressure to use recyclable content in their bottles. But what happens in five years? What happens in 20 years when we're not talking about this anymore? How is that sort of pressure from the public going to going to be maintained?

Laura Knoy:
Well, in the course of your reporting, Laura, you, also you looked at all these documents and talked to former industry officials, but you also talked to current plastics industry officials who said, you know, I'm quoting here, "truly, this is not PR. We really want people to recycle." Another one said "there's different technology on the horizon that will give us a different outcome." So how do you view these claims, Laura?

Laura Sullivan:
So I sat down with the head of sustainability for Chevron Phillips, and he said that their plan,ecause I asked them, what are you going to do now? You know, what's what's going on now? And he said, we're going to recycle 100 percent of the plastic we make by 2040, 100 percent. And 30 years into recycling. We've never really gotten past nine. And that's with China open. This isn't even like looking at the numbers after China closes its doors. And I said, how? How on earth are you going to get to 100 percent? And he said, well, we really, really care this time. And we're going to spend a lot of money this time and we're really going to get people to, we're going to do lots of new technology. We have new machines coming out. We're going to chemically recycle things, which has never been sort of viable in ten years yet. And he was very earnest.

Laura Sullivan:
He told a story about vacationing with his wife and and he was so upset about all the trash, the plastic trash they saw. And this was all landing in the wrong place. And he was very earnest about this. But, you know, and he said we're really we really are going to spend a lot of money, hundreds of millions of dollars we're going to spend on this. And then I went and I talked to the head spokesperson for the entire gas and oil and plastic industry. And he said, yes, that's our vision, too. We're going to recycle it all by 2040. But here the problem is that there's more plastic trash than there's ever been. It is harder to recycle now because there's a gazillion different kinds. There's hundreds. There's eight hundred, in some cases even more different types of plastic. Everybody's using layers of plastic. And on top of that, the cost of virgin oil is still cheaper. So it's just cheaper and easier to use new oil than it is to use plastic trash to make plastic things. And then there's this sort of really foundational problem that if the oil and gas industry uses 100 percent of all of the plastic trash to make new plastic items, why would anybody need to buy their oil and gas? And it's hard to see the oil industry putting itself out of business like that.

Laura Sullivan:
They said, no, you misunderstand. There's always going to be a need for even more, we're going to recycle everything we have and we're going to use all new virgin oil for even more plastic products. And at this point, their plastic production is expected to triple by 2050. So by the time you get to, I mean, think about how much plastic is in your life right now and triple it at this point. And they said that this is not public relations. And I went back and I asked all of the guys that I talked to in the 90s and I played the industry's new commercial, which is happening, it's going on right now in the same way that the 90s.

Laura Sullivan:
And they said it's exactly the same. They said they didn't believe it. They said that this is just the same story that they told in the 90s. Get the public to believe that recycling plastic will work and people will stop talking about the environmental problems with plastic.

Laura Knoy:
So and I have to ask you this last question, Laura, and it's a more personal one. So, again, you know, I buy stuff from the grocery store. A lot of it comes in plastic. I squish it. I put it in the bin. Should I not bother?

Laura Sullivan:
Soda bottles and milk jugs, that's the only thing I found in this country at this moment right now that has an actual viable market. And even then it's depending on people wanting recycled content in their products. So we'll see if it lasts. But the recyclers I talked to, you know, three through seven, if you are going to flip them over, there's no US market for three. through sevens right now. And overseas markets are really sketchy. I went to Indonesia, it was like walking through a grocery store in these people's neighborhoods. It was just all the stuff that Americans were putting in their blue bins getting dumped into people's neighborhoods and into the ocean. I go into the grocery store and I look at my own cart and I feel nothing but defeat.

Laura Sullivan:
And at this point for me and this is just me, based on the the experience I had doing the story, is that I recycle those two things and I make sure the rest of it goes into the landfill and won't be in any way landing in somebody's neighborhood or in the ocean.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and as you talk about your own grocery cart, that's a perfect segue to our next guests. So Laura Sullivan, I'll let you go for now. Thank you very much.

Laura Sullivan:
Thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it.

Laura Knoy:
That's Laura Sullivan, NPR reporter. You can find her report about plastics recycling on our website at NHPR.org/Exchange. So, listeners, for the rest of the hour, we are talking about zero waste or at least reducing your own waste stream, whether you're trash bin or your recycling bin. We have two guests with us for the rest of the hour. They are Ryan Hvizda. She's administrator of Zero Waste New Hampshire's Facebook page and also co-owner of Bonafide Green Goods. That's a store in downtown Concord focused on waste reduction. And also with us, Kirstie Pecci, director of the Zero Waste Project for the Conservation Law Foundation. Well, welcome to both of you. And let's just reflect on what we just heard from Laura Sullivan. And, Kirstie, to you first. How much has the focus on recycling, you know, go ahead and buy it, you can just recycle it, taken away from the messages that you and Ryan focus on, which is reduce. Reuse. Go ahead, Kirstie.

Kirstie Pecci:
Well, I think it's fair to say that the only thing that the oil, gas or plastic industry are recycling are their media spots. Their advertising, right? So they're not, the plastic is not going to get recycled. And I 100 percent agree with everything that Laura Sullivan did. Her article is fantastic, if you haven't read it yet, really informative. And that's the truth. That being said, we do have recycling and our goods. There are some steps we need to, first of all, actually be capturing those materials, so they have to be in the bin. Then we have to sort them. Then we have to make them into a new product. That's what real recycling is, right, is making it into a new product. The American Chemistry Association and the oil and gas companies want to do what they call chemical recycling now, which is burning, mostly burning. these materials, maybe a little bit gets made into new plastic. But as Laura so aptly put it, if we recycled all the plastic, there'd be nothing else to do with all this oil and gas and they'd go out of business. So we have to understand that the reality is plastic is not going to get recycled. It's dangerous from beginning to end. Fracking gas refining gas and oil, making it into plastic, recycling plastic, burning plastic and landfilling plastic are all dangerous. And there are public health consequences to all those steps, as well as using plastic is dangerous. So we want to avoid the plastic. We want to minimize what we're doing. And as she also said, we want to recycle number one and number two plastic, the soda bottles and the milk jugs. That being said, as we'll get into, there's a lot you can do, not only in your own home, but a lot you can do in your community to change this paradigm. We don't have to do what the oil companies and what the plastic companies want us to do.We can push back and we can take action.

Laura Knoy:
So well and get into reducing waste this hour. We started off by talking about this recycling plastic conundrum with Laura Sullivan. For the rest of the hour. I'm hoping we can get ideas and questions and practical suggestions for reducing what's going into our trash and our recycling bins. And Ryan, I want to turn to you, too, but with an email from Julie in Spofford who says, I believe that the push to recycling has possibly done more harm than good. Julie says it allows people to feel like they are doing their part when if they really want to see a change in the environment, they need to stop consuming so much to begin with. And since our economy is based on consumption, our government and manufacturers are not going to want to make this easy for people to do. And Julie, thank you for writing. And Ryan, what do you think?

Ryan Hvizda:
I agree with Julie. I think there's five Rs of being zero waste and the first one is refuse. And you just have to go through your day and think about all the time that you're you're being told to buy something because it's easy. And then as soon as you're done with it, it just goes away. But there is a place where it goes. And as we're seeing it ending up in a village across the world where people are just living surrounded by trash and it's burning. It's not just going away to recycle into a fancy doormat. It's actually impacting people's lives around the world, so that first step is refuse and taking a hard look at how you're consuming and what you're consuming and starting to go item by item would be like, how can I change this item in my life and not bring it in or get it in a way that doesn't come wrapped in plastic or in a material that has to go away?

Laura Knoy:
Well, Michael in Dover wrote in with some suggestions, he says here's some quick and easy suggestions to reduce waste: use cloth bags instead of plastic, ask your bagger not to use plastic bags and just put your stuff in the shopping cart and you can put it in your car yourself. Use reusable lunch bags, Michael says, and buy in bulk using reusable containers. So Ryan and Kirstie after a break. I want to ask you about reusable containers, buying in bulk. I have read that because of the pandemic, some people are shying away from that. They're worried about what they perceive to be the germ factor. So definitely coming up, we're going to talk about how the pandemic has affected the way we approach our trash and recycling bins and this whole reusable movement. We will be right back. And we'll keep taking your suggestions as well.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange, I'm Laura Knoy. Today getting to zero waste or at least doing more to cut your trash and recycling streams. It's part of NHPR's by Degrees Climate Reporting Project. And listeners, let's hear from you. How has the pandemic affected your trash and recycling bins? Do you find yourself throwing out less or more? And what ideas do you have in your own household for waste reduction? We're talking with Ryan Hvizda and Kirstie Pecci, and both of you, let's go to our listeners. Steve in Nottingham is calling in. Hi, Steve. You're on the air. Welcome.

Caller:
Good morning and thank you very much for the show, and I'm reminiscent of the movie The Graduate when he talked about plastics, how they lied to us like the way they did about tobacco. Anyway, what we've done, my partner and I, we've built a series of gardens, flower gardens and food gardens in our yard. So we don't have to go to the farm, to the table. The farm is in our own house right now. We actually have had meals that we've grown in our own yard. Plus we have a way of recycling the stuff, the stuff you use, some of the food that you don't use and stuff like that. We compost it and then use that compost to make garden fertilizer our own. So we have done a lot of these things so we can make a little bit of sustainability in our own neighborhood with our own yard.

Laura Knoy:
It's great to hear from you, Steve. And he's talking about composting. And, you know, we could tackle that right now. Ryan, in your work with Zero Waste, New Hampshire, what have you observed about composting recently with the pandemic? And more broadly, how much does the leftover food that our caller talks about, you know, just end up in the trash?

Ryan Hvizda:
Well, composting is the hottest topic in zero waste group because everybody is realizing that they're throwing so much food in the trash and they think it's something like 40 percent of all food in the grocery store also ends up in a landfill. And one of the biggest issues in New Hampshire is that we, New Hampshire, does not have the regulation around industrial composting of meat and dairy, which would allow for municipalities and private companies to pop up and allow composting on a larger scale. So it's totally on the consumer and the citizen to figure out how to compost in their backyard, in their apartment. Through this network in the group, there's some people that are going to other people's houses to pick up their compost, to feed their chickens. People are just trying to figure out how to do it, because right now, New Hampshire doesn't have a system in place to allow for it. And there are third party companies that have popped up out in the seacoast, but they're bringing the compost into Maine because Maine allows composting on this industrial level. And then there's a company in Nashua called City Grows and they're bringing it into Massachusetts to compost. And then there's Upper Valley compost, but they're bringing it into Vermont to compost. So it's a little bit bizarre that there's all these people that want to compost and there's companies popping up, but they have to bring it out of state to actually compost it.

Laura Knoy:
Interesting. And what do you think, Kirstie? Composting is a huge issue. We've done whole shows on it. But there is this idea that it does take up a lot of weight in the waste stream. And I wonder what you've observed.

Kirstie Pecci:
The food scraps and yard waste are about a third of the trash that we're throwing away into landfills and incinerators. And when you remember that New Hampshire produces about a million tons of waste a year and then imports another million tons to burn and bury in New Hampshire, If New Hampshire said, you know what, just like Vermont, we're not going to allow any food scraps in our landfill anymore, which is what Vermont has already done. If New Hampshire took that step and then also, as Ryan said, put some composting regs in place, then what that would do would be reduce your trash hugely. But it would also push people from other states who are importing their trash into New Hampshire. It would change it so that they would be forced to compost, too. So we've seen a rise in composting across the whole region, both backyard composting, which can be just, you know, can be just as Ryan was saying, in your backyard doesn't have to be real high tech. Or it could be collection or cooperative with their neighborhood, as Ryan was saying, or there's pickup services in cities, too. We've seen a push throughout the whole region and those are becoming much more prevalent in Boston and in all over the area. I think that's the low-hanging fruit, not to make a pun. And one of the first steps that we should take to reduce our waste is to reduce, be better about eating the food and feeding animals. So, as Ryan said, we're not throwing away 40 percent of our food, which is about what we throw away, but then also compost it afterwards. There's no reason we can't be doing that throughout New England, especially in New Hampshire.

Laura Knoy:
Let's go back to our callers and Cindy's calling from Dover. Hi, Cindy. You're on the air. Welcome.

Caller:
Hi, yes, thanks, I want to talk about all the liquids we purchase that are in plastic, so I don't know if people realize that water made with a filter at home is only 10 cents a gallon versus two or three dollars a gallon that you buy in all those water bottles. So people could do that. But also, I don't think the grocery stores provide enough juices in frozen conditions. And instead, people are buying all their juices in plastic bottles, which are toxic on any level like you said before. How can we get grocery stores to have more frozen juices and people to understand how much better that is as a source of drink in many ways?

Laura Knoy:
Thanks, Cindy. I'm glad you called. And Kirstie when I was little. I don't even remember juice in plastic bottles. It was all sort of the frozen juice that you had to mix up on your own at home. So, Cindy, thank you for calling. What do you think, Kirstie?

Kirstie Pecci:
Well, two things. One, you know, you want to go to a store like the one that Ryan runs and make the best choices you can at a place like that and also change your buying habits, you shouldn't buy bottled water, for instance, as the listener was just saying. The other thing is that there are ways to regulate this. There are now four different towns in Massachusetts that have banned single-serve bottled water. In other words, that that single-use, plastic, single small bottles of water are banned in Concord, in Wellfleet and in Brewster, in Massachusetts. So the regulation can happen. And that's one of the things that we have to start doing, is requiring that we have better corporate practices and we have to do that through government. The other thing is that if you require the companies to pay for the recycling piece, producer responsibility, like a bottle bill. If you make them responsible for the end of life of that plastic bottle, then they start doing a better job with selling things, for instance, in concentrated form, as the listener was saying. Or we've seen redesign where you start refilling glass bottles, which when we were kids, Laura, that's how you bought your Coke and your Pepsi,is there were refillable glass bottles. There's no reason we can't go back to a system like that. But certainly the bottling companies and the plastic companies aren't going to do that without a fight. And we're going to have to require that they do that through incentivized, not only laws, but local ordinances to make that happen.

Laura Knoy:
Well, I remember when Concord, Mass., passed that no small plastic water bottle bill. And Ryan, I got to ask you this. When we talked about that on The Exchange, I don't know, a year or two ago, we got some pushback from audiences saying, look, you know, if I'm driving through Concord, Mass. and I am thirsty, I should be able to buy a bottle of water. There's kind of a freedom argument to it. If people want it. You know, government shouldn't tell them they can't have it. And if people are really concerned about plastic water bottles, then they they won't buy it. So I just wonder how you sort of parse that out, Ryan.

Ryan Hvizda:
Well, so I think this is kind of a question of the individual right versus public health, and we face with the mask. Like, is your right to a bottled water worth the environmental catastrophe that the plastic industry is imparting on the world? And that's really what it comes down to every time you make a purchase of single-use plastic and you say it's your right to do that. Is it really worth it to say that that's your right when we see the effects of plastic pollution on the entire world? And that's how I see it now.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and like I said, we did a whole show on it and we could totally work on those arguments a little bit more. But I'm going to move on because we have so many e-mails and calls from our listeners, including Caroline in Windham, who says how is the online shopping surge and all the plastic packing increasing the problem? Caroline says, I take all of that plastic and other plastic film to the bin in the stores. What happens to it then? You know, I did want to ask both of you and Kirstie, maybe you first. What trends have you been tracking at the Conservation Law Foundation in terms of people's trash and recycling habits due to the pandemic? Caroline's right. You know, a lot of people have been getting a lot of boxes on their doorsteps, online shopping.

Kirstie Pecci:
There's online shopping, there's also people having food delivered to their home, which has been an increase in plastic for your residential recycling and your trash. On the other end of it, we've seen a real decrease in business and commercial waste. So in other words, downtown in cities and towns centers where maybe everybody walked out and bought lunch and it was in a plastic container. That's not happening as much because so many of us are working from home. I also, you know, we all joke about the the sourdough bread piece, and earlier John was talking about his garden, which sounds like a lifeline product for him, not a COVID type product. But a lot of people have turned to gardening and making food from scratch, which again, that decreases how much plastic you're using if you make bread and you can get a lot more mileage out of your food, not only cost wise, but also as far as your waste goes, if you make things from scratch. So it's a mixed bag. I will say that what we are seeing is increased costs for cities and towns because businesses pay for their own waste and recycling. When you when you're doing something at home, your city and town ends at the taxpayer ends up paying the brunt. Either you're paying for your own trash or it's happening a city and town level. So individuals are bearing a lot more costs of the increased waste overall due to COVID, I would say.

Ryan Hvizda:
That's interesting. Ryan, I'm going to ask you to in your work with Zero Waste New Hampshire, what have you observed about how the pandemic has affected the amount of stuff people are putting into their trash bins and their recycling bins? It seems to me there's a couple trends and counter trends here.

Ryan Hvizda:
Yeah, I think we're all grappling with the fact that there's way more single use touches and then there was that period of time where you weren't allowed to bring your reusable bags into the grocery store. And I know the plastic use right there just skyrocketed. So what I love about the group is it's progress, not perfection. And also everybody wants to help everybody else. So offering the suggestion of filling up your groceries in your cart and then wheeling them out to your car and putting them in your own bags. And so it's very solution based, but it's just these one-off individual ideas that hopefully, you know, being on the show today we'll get more than a thousand members and we can really expand the conversation. But I think that people are just discouraged that it felt, right before the pandemic, people were starting to make all these moves towards reducing their waste. And then the pandemic hit. And it seems like we we have single-Use touches everywhere that weren't there before.

Laura Knoy:
So are you saying, Ryan, that the pandemic has caused a surge in single-use items because people are afraid of contamination and that it could be a while before people return to, you know, considering reusables?

Ryan Hvizda:
I think so, because there are some people that still are going aren't even going to the grocery store, you know, they're having their curbside pickup. I think it's going to be a while till we see everybody back in the stores or going out even to their house, because we do free delivery in the local area. So there's still people that don't even want to go into the store and that that causes waste.

Caller:
I did that home delivery just once just to see what it was was all about. And I was surprised at how many bags they used. When I go to the store myself, I say, you know, you can fill them up pretty full for me. But there were a lot of bags there when they brought that delivery home. Let's take another call. This is Elsa in Kingston. Hi, Elsa. Go ahead. You're on the air.

Caller:
Hi. Well, I was surprised the other day at the grocery store to see somebody using recyclable bag.They told me that it's been a whole month since the governor allowed people to bring their own back to the grocery store. I never heard that on your face. And I listened to you guys every day. Should have been a big announcement, I think,

Laura Knoy:
Yeah, well, Elsa, I'm glad you listen every day, I'm sure it was reported, but there's a lot of news out there. So it's perfectly makes sense that you missed it. And I did want to ask about that. You, Kirstie, I think, you know, she's right. About a month ago, the governor said you can bring your cloth bags back to the grocery store, but people have kind of gotten out of the habit. I wonder what you're seeing.

Kirstie Pecci:
Well, it's really interesting because the the plastic industry did the same thing they always did at the beginning of this pandemic, they said plastic is what is safe, plastic is what is clean. You should be using plastic single-use bags. That's what makes them money. That's what they're always going to push for. And the environmental community and I think most you know, most customers looked around and said, well, wait a second, how does this virus really work? And what we found out from talking to epidemiologists like Dr. Ben Lochlyn and other folks, I think he's been on your show before. [inaudible] stay away from other people, which is why so many people are still not going out, as Ryan said, and why we're all being so careful. That being said, there are no recorded cases of someone getting the virus from stuff. In other words, if you pick something up, as long as you keep washing your hands, as long as you're as careful as you can be, you're going to be OK. So, reusable bags are not a source of this contagion. The groceries from your grocery store, nobody's washing their groceries anymore. That's not a source of the contagion. And whether it's a plate at a restaurant or a reusable bag, that's not your problem, because we've already got rules in place to keep your groceries clean at the grocery store, to keep your plates and glasses clean if you go to a cafe or a restaurant outside, those are already in place. Reusable bags are no more dangerous than single use plastic goods. And in fact, as we already talked about single-use plastics are dangerous for lots of other toxicity reasons. So you should be switching over to your reusable bags wherever you can and wherever you're allowed to do so. Definitely your grocery bags. You should be putting your groceries back into your reusable bags. So that's the science. That's not just wishful thinking. So I think it takes people sometimes time to get used to an idea and get used to new ways of doing things. But there's no reason not to push reusable right now. That's perfectly safe.

Laura Knoy:
Elsa, thank you very much for calling, for raising that issue. A couple of emails that I'll share with you before we go to a break. Tom in Exeter says, Many may not remember this, but when Hood changed their milk bottles to white to block light back in 1997, recyclers complained that the white jugs were much less recyclable. Milk bottles that are normally colorless are much more recyclable because they have little to no color. Tom says the white bottles contaminate the milk jug recycling stream. Tina writes us, I try to buy as much meat as possible from the butcher counter at Hannaford rather than all the wrapped meats in Styrofoam and plastic. It may be a small thing, Tina says, but I have noticed a lot less trash in my bag. And then Sue on Facebook writes, We minimize trash by composting and keeping stinky stuff in the freezer until trash day so that our plastic garbage bags last for weeks. But I'm sad to throw throw away so much plastic and wonder if the grocery store really recycles the various RFID coated bags that we drop off.

Laura Knoy:
Thanks to everybody for writing. And after a short break, we'll take a lot more of your comments and we'll talk a little bit more about how our waste streams have changed due to the pandemic.We're talking about composting. We're talking about recycling. We're talking about trash.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange, I'm Laura Knoy. today as part of NHPR's By Degrees Climate Reporting Project, we're asking where the zero waste movement is now given shifting habits and norms around the pandemic. Also from our listeners, we've been getting practical ideas for cutting your own waste stream while saving money. Exchange listeners, let's hear from you. Our guests are Kirstie Pecci and Ryan Hvizda. They both work on this issue. Ryan through Zero Waste New Hampshire and the Concord store she co-owns, Bona Fide Green Goods and Kirstie with the Conservation Law Foundation. And just before the break, I read a couple ideas that our listeners are using to reduce their own waste streams just a little bit. Ryan, how about you? What do you do on your end?

Ryan Hvizda:
Well, one thing I would want to suggest to people, because it feels really overwhelming to hear all of this, if it's the first time that you're learning about plastics, and thinking about it and realizing recycling isn't what you thought it was, is to do a trash audit. So you could either do that for a day, for a week, for a month, and just see what you're producing for waste. And then tackle it one by one. So maybe you start in the shower and you look at my shampoo bottle, my conditioner bottle, my body wash bottle. Do I need to buy these things in bottles or is there also a way that I can say this bottle is my last bottle, that I can refill. And do that systematically through your house over a year because you can't do it all at one time. It can get a little expensive at first and it can feel very overwhelming. So just start one habit at a time, based on what you've already what you're doing. And that's how we start with everybody that comes into the stores, like where are you at in the journey and what's your next habit that you're going to build? Because it is a habit. It's a new way of living. It's a new way of looking at everything that you're consuming and where it's going.

Laura Knoy:
So how do I refill? I'm just thinking about my own day by day. How do I refill a shampoo bottle?

Ryan Hvizda:
You bring it into you, there's many places right downtown Concord, there's Granite State Naturals, there's our store and there's the Co-op. There's a non-toxic, refillable option that you can just go in and refill your bottle.

Laura Knoy:
So a trash audit and one thing at a time so people don't get overwhelmed. How about you, Kirstie?

Kirstie Pecci:
Well, I was going to say exactly the same thing that Ryan just said. That's exactly right. Trash audit is the way to go. We actually every fall do a Zero Waste challenge at Conservation Law Foundation. You can check it out online where we ask people to sign up. Start off with a trash audit the week before and then start, you know, looking at new ideas and figuring out how to do things this past year. You know, bar shampoo is another way to go if that works for you. I like bar shampoo. I use refillable conditioner, I haven't been able to find, a bar conditioner that I love but if people have ideas, email them to me. I also have this past year was able to move away from, I already did cloth napkins, but I was able to move away from paper towels for washing my windows. I used rags in the kitchen, but then wanted to move away from paper towels for washing windows and other glass surfaces in my house. So I bought some reusable paper towels, which it worked really well. But as Ryan said, it can be a little bit expensive. It can take a little bit of time and you have to be realistic with yourself because you could make this a full time job to minimize your plastic and minimize your footprint, your carbon footprint. And I also think it's really important if something were really underscoring in our Zero Waste challenge at the Conservation Law Foundation, that you can't solve this problem by yourself, you can change your habits and do the best you can. Keep recycling, keep sorting well,really start composting. All those pieces are really important, purchase smart. But at the end of the day, there are some things that you can't avoid and that are done really poorly throughout our society. So we need to change our local ordinances, our state laws to protect people so that we can phase out single use plastics and so we can do a better job on our waste overall. As Ryan was saying, we should be composting all through New Hampshire. That's a moneymaker, there are 20 times more jobs per ton for composting than there are in a landfill or incinerator. That makes money. And also, we need to do things like Portsmouth has banned styrofoam. Portsmouth, New Hampshire, banned styrofoam. There's no reason other cities and towns can't do the same throughout New Hampshire and stop the use of some of these terrible plastics. You know, New Hampshire doesn't have a bottle bill, that would save cities and towns a lot of money if we had a bottle bill throughout. So there is a lot you can do in your home that you should do, as Ryan said, and I totally agree with her. And then when you're ready, if you could start a store like Ryan did, that's awesome. If you want to be an advocate like I am, that's great. Or if you want to, you know, do something at your local level and start a composting program or get a bill passed in your state, that's huge. That makes a big difference. Or just call your city councilor or your rep or senator.

Laura Knoy:
Well, speaking of cloth napkins, Leela posted on Facebook, My family made the switch to cloth napkins a few years ago. We used to go through a roll of paper towels a week. Now a roll lasts well over a month. Let's take another call. This is Jessica in Portsmouth. Hi, Jessica. You're on the air. Welcome.

Caller:
Hi, thank you for having me. Thank you for doing this show. I just wanted to say first that I'm actually in the process of opening a refill store as well here in Portsmouth called the Refill Station, so we will be focused on household products, but our mission is to reduce our plastic footprint. And I also had a question or just sort of a comment. I was curious what your guests think about trying to buy organic products at the grocery store that are not wrapped in single use plastic. That's one of the most frustrating things to me. When I can't get something at the local farm stand and I go there for the product and it's all wrapped up in plastic.

Laura Knoy:
Oh, so even though you want to buy something organic, Jessica, it's kind of heavily wrapped up and you don't want that.

Caller:
Yes, exactly.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah, I'm gonna throw that to Kirstie.

Kirstie Pecci:
It drives me nuts. I'll do you one better. None of that filmy plastic is recyclable. Sometimes it gets downcycled and made into plastic decking, perhaps, but it's not going to get recycled in any of the systems through New England. But you know what drives me even more crazy? The only organic chicken at the store the other day was on a styrofoam tray. So styrofoam is very toxic. It was either [inaudible] chicken or the organic chicken. It was my only choice. And the Styrofoam is so toxic. So what do you do? And so that's why we need to really put pressure on these corporations to do things in a different way. One of them, as I said, ban stuff like styrofoam it's so toxic. But, you know, there's other ways to put corporate pressure on. We could do campaigns across the region on that. And then also, again, anything that you do yourself, it does help. So you make the best choices you can. And I think, as Ryan said, I love what you said earlier about progress, not perfection. Try not to drive yourself crazy with any of this because we're just doing the best we can.

Laura Knoy:
Well, here's an email from Ingrid in Newmarket who wow, she's doing a lot. She says, thank you for this. Refuse, reduce, repurpose, recycle and rethink program. Ingrid says, Fortunately, I live in the seacoast so our compost can go to Maine. By using our commercial composting bins at our transfer station. I put out my orange Newmarket garbage bag about once every six months. Wow. Ingrid! She says, I am fortunate that I don't have diapers or other sanitary products to force out the garbage bags more often. What has amazed me is the reduced quantity. Yeah, I've got a composting bin and I have to say I put a lot of stuff in there, so that's helpful. Thank you for writing, Ingrid. Nel asks. I think it was the Conservation Law Foundation guest who said they have five Rs to help reduce trash. She said one of them, refuse, what are the other four? Kirstie?.

Kirstie Pecci:
Well, you know, there's lots of good Rs, but Refuse and Reduce are my favorite ones, because if you don't use it at all, there's no impact on the environment. Right. And it saves you all that money. So that's the best one. Definitely. I also really like Rethink and Redesign. People use them pretty much interchangeably. We want to be forcing companies to redesign their goods. And one of the ways to do that is to force them to pay for the end life of their products in their packaging. If they are forced to pay for that and they redesign that. And we're seeing that all through Europe. And then, of course, there's still room for recycling. You want to make sure you do a good job storing your recycling, but before you get to recycling any time you can Reuse, it's one of my favorite Rs as well. Reusable water bottles. If you make sure when you get in the car that you've got a full bottle of water with you, you're all set. And that's really important. Reusable coffee cups, reusable water bottles, reusable razorblades, menstrual cups. Like there's lots of different things you can do that are reusable, that will really avoid a ton of plastic, literally tons of plastic trash through our society. Many people also include composting in the recycling category. And that's fine, too, if you want to stick to the Rs. Ryan, I think you had a couple of other Rs, too, am I missing some?

Ryan Hvizda:
Repair. And then that last one was Rot.

Kirstie Pecci:
That's right. I love Repair, too. There's so many products that I know could be fixed if there was a good repair shop. If, you know, your waffle iron is broken, it's probably not really broken, but there's no place to repair it. So really, finding good repair shops is really huge.

Laura Knoy:
Well, speaking of repair, Owen in Concord posted on Twitter, I am 14. Nine million tons of furniture end up in landfills every year. So, Owen says, I recycle and flip it, take the old and make it new. This is one way we can make the world better. I have a small business called Squid Flip in Concord, New Hampshire, where I upcycle furniture and Owen says I think we can all do a better job of reusing and repurposing household goods. I've been in business for over four years now and I know that it's going to take people in my generation to make a real difference in the world in terms of environmental action. But we need the grown ups around us to do their part too. Owen, thank you for writing. And this gets back to partly what we talked about, Ryan, the pandemic, I think before the pandemic, a lot of people were buying recycled, you know, old furniture, repurposing it, Secondhand clothing shops, people were sort of buying vintage clothing and really loving it. But now how do people feel about it, Ryan?

Ryan Hvizda:
Well, it's hard for me to represent that because I know they're still committed to showing up at at Bona Fide and still are doing everything they can, but when I step back into the real world and see just what's happening, I mean there's still people wearing gloves everywhere, you know, single use gloves and single use masks. And they're not going out to stores and they're buying everything at home. So I think it's going to take a while to get us back to where we were before the pandemic in terms of the awareness around not having to have the single-use barrier around us everywhere we go.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and toward that end, Ryan, you know, just to wrap up with you and Kirstie, what's the sort of message you want to leave with people in this time? They may want to do a little bit more for the environment, but they are nervous about, you know, sort of the the germ factor, the fear factor.

Ryan Hvizda:
I would say start small and just look at one room at a time. How can you make a difference? Just start small and one step at a time?

Laura Knoy:
Kirstie, how about you, your last advice for folks?

Kirstie Pecci:
I totally agree. Don't stop recycling. Definitely keep sorting your number one and number two plastic, your metals and your cardboard and glass and putting them in your recycling bin. Number two, do the best you can, shifting to reusable, and avoiding plastics and other single use products and then take action in your community. Form a recycling committee, call your your select people, call your state reps and senators. Take action and write a letter to the editor. All that matters, call into a show like this, it makes a huge difference. So this is this is a problem with the solve. And we can not only protect the environment and public health, but save money while we're doing it. So let's get together and do it.

Laura Knoy:
Kirstie was great to talk to you. Thank you for your time.That's Kirstie Pecci with the Conservation Law Foundation. Ryan, good to have you too. Thank you. This is The Exchange on New Hampshire Public Radio. Today's show was produced by Jessica Hunt.