Climate Corner: Recycle/repurpose

Aug 28, 2021

Nenna Davis

Recycling is not a new concept. I remember waiting for the milkman to deliver cold milk and cottage cheese. These products were delivered in glass containers, which, once emptied, we would set out to be recycled. When plastic containers arrived on the scene things changed to where my mom would pick up milk and cottage cheese, packaged in plastic containers, at the grocery store. My mom (like many other moms) became a repurposing trailblazer, for those containers found their way into our refrigerators filled with leftovers. And soon became the vessels to carry mismatched buttons, broken crayons, etc.

Plastics were introduced to the world in 1862 with the first plastics made from plant cellulose. Most of today’s plastics are made from hydrocarbon molecules as a byproduct from the refining of oil and gas. Plastics have become a mainstay in packaging and product manufacturing. According to an article published by Columbia University Climate School “More Plastic is on the Way: What it Means for Climate Change,” written by Renee Cho on Feb. 20, 2020, the proliferation of plastic manufacturing is polluting our water, air and land. In addition, Cho states that “Microplastic and tiny plastic fibers have been found in honey, sugar, beer, processed foods, shellfish, salt, detergent bottled water and tap water; however, the health effects of microplastics are still unclear.”

So, how does plastic effect climate change? The production of plastics exacerbates greenhouse emissions. As you likely know, greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases. The earth’s greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere and warm the planet. Each stage in the lifecycle of plastic contributes to these gasses. It begins in the oil and gas fracking process, where ethane is emitted. Then the refining and manufacturing increases air emissions believed to be equal to 800,000 new cars on the road annually. Next, is in the process of discarding used plastics. Plastic is usually incinerated, recycled or ends up in a landfill. It is through the incineration process that more gasses are introduced to our atmosphere. According to a National Geographic report in 2018 only 9 percent of all plastics were recycled.

According to the Center for International Environmental Law the best solution would be to ban plastics or at least work toward a global campaign against single-use plastics. But, both of these solutions carry many issues. One of these would be a significant financial impact while a second would lead to the question: What would we replace plastics with? And that could be as destructive as plastics.

That leaves us with the question, what can we do? The best solution for each of us is to recycle or repurpose. We can recycle our plastics. Recycled plastics are used to make many useable items such as bottles, bags, playground equipment, and foam packaging. Think of all those bottles of water you drink, that your local ball team drink during a game, or that you serve at your summer get-togethers. They can all be recycled. Most plastics can be recycled, just check with your local recycling center.

Or we can learn a lesson from my mother: repurpose. We can repurpose our dairy cartons to organize things such as screws, nails, and buttons. We can repurpose coffee containers for flour, sugar, rice, bean canisters, etc. We can even repurpose plastic bottles for freezing water to use in your coolers. As a child we used egg cartons to make decorations. The possibilities are endless. We are limited only by our imagination.


Nenna Davis has a bachelor’s degree in zoology/botanyand master’s degree in organizational communication,