CATCH OF THE DAY — Recycling Is Not The Whole Answer

March 1, 2018

By Marla Schmidt

How much plastic trash are you adding to the environment in a day? A week? A month?

Most of us have no idea because we have been programmed by an industry that has caused us to buy into the sheer convenience of single-use plastics, like beverage cups, disposable cutlery, and grocery bags. It has become part of our daily living to the point we don’t even see it. Because most of us dispose of used paper, plastic, and glass by simply throwing them into the recycling bin and forgetting about them, it’s easy to think that all recycled materials are created equal. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Each material has a unique value, determined by the rarity of the virgin resource used to manufacture it and the price the recycled material fetches on the commodity market.

The recycling process for each type of material also requires a different amount of water and energy and comes with a unique, and sometimes hefty, carbon footprint.

To better understand Milwaukee’s recycling program, I toured the Materials Recovery Facility last fall to watch our trash in action. While quite impressed with the state-of-the-art facility, I also realized that it was just one part of the process of recycling that includes sorting and then baling the various recycled materials for distribution. I wondered where it all went from there. Recently I came across an article that linked to a video tour of the EcoStar Recycling Facility right here in Wisconsin. It picks up where Milwaukee’s Materials Recovery Facility leaves off. EcoStar processes those plastic bales. In the video, CEO Dan Mohs states that the food grade plastic bottles his company manufactures from recycled plastic require 50 percent less carbon than the same bottles manufactured from virgin resources.

EcoStar is a division of Placon, founded in 1966 by engineer Tom Mohs. The company is located in Fitchburg, Wis. (To see the multitude of steps involved in creating recycled plastic, watch the video:

We consumers believe we are doing the right thing by recycling, but it is not the answer. Recycling is a treatment for pollution not a cure for it. The packaging industry has little incentive to stop using single-use plastic. They have created a market with consumers who heedlessly buy into the ubiquity of plastic, thus benefiting the plastic industry’s bottom line. We must, as individuals, take it upon ourselves to reduce our use of single-use plastic.

Recycling is not the answer. Instead, we must reduce the amount of single-use plastic we use daily. Start with a small step. Begin by eliminating your use of plastic straws. Refuse single-use plastic straws. Because some restaurants serve a beverage with the straw in the glass, tell your server not to serve yours with a straw, when you order.

The action or inaction of each and every one of us really controls our destiny.

The Last Plastic Straw campaign strives to educate the public about the absurdity of single-use plastic, its effects on our health, our environment, and our oceans. The campaign is already underway here in Milwaukee and these businesses have taken the pledge to offer straws only upon request and to switch from plastic to paper straws: Bowls, Café LuLu, Juniper61, Mistral, Sheridan’s, and the newest restaurant to pledge to remove plastic straws, The National Café, 839 W. National Avenue. Change starts with changing behavior. Let these businesses know you appreciate their efforts.

This is an invitation to all bars and restaurants, to be part of the movement to eliminate plastic pollution.

You can contact me at and follow our progress on Facebook at catchofthedayMKE.

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