A bonus of publishing Opinion pages is the conversation that can be sparked between the newspaper and its readers — and most importantly, among newspaper readers, whether through letters, My Views or online comments. Sometimes readers will reach for the phone and ask questions that prompt further investigations.
On Monday, we wrote about the battle against single-use plastics in California (“Plastic habits can’t be set in stone,” Our View, June 10). After reading a reader called in, wanting to know whether desert dwellers are better off tossing dirty plastics or cans — it takes water to rinse ones that held food so they can be recycled, after all. Or, he asked, should he keep recycling?
Our response was the informed, “that’s a great question!” It also was accompanied by this bit of advice: Rinse plastics or cans in used dish water, or stick bins and containers on top of full dishwasher loads so you don’t use additional water. But we knew we needed to do more research.
Turns out, that by recycling, we can reduce our water footprint even if we need to rinse first to reduce possible contamination. The savings comes because so much water is used in production — for each plastic bottle manufactured, for example, it takes about 1.5 gallons, according to www.watercalculator.org.
Not only does recycling plastics reduce trash and keep materials out of landfills and away from streams and oceans, it can reduce the amount of energy used to produce new products. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, making new plastics from recycled material uses only two-thirds of the energy required to make it from raw materials.
At greenblue.org, writer Kelly Lahvic decided to test whether too much water went into rinsing plastics, saying that, “recycling to conserve materials versus not recycling to conserve water … it’s quite the apples to oranges comparison. I’m hoping a few at-home experiments will give us a better feel for how much water it takes to recycle different plastic packages.”
She took a frozen meal packaged in a polypropylene tray and needed 3 cups of water to clean it; then, she had to wash out a yogurt tub, which only took about 1.5 cups. Her conclusion: ” … preparing truly recyclable packages to be recycled doesn’t have to be wasteful at all. In fact, you know all of the water you used to wash your big frying pan? Don’t let it immediately go down the drain. Instead, reuse the water to rinse out your packages.”
So there you have it. Recycling is worth it, even if you have to rinse. Of course, start by avoiding single-use plastic — whether bags, straws, or bottles. Then, there’s no need to recycle. Until new habits form, we can all work to divert plastic and other reusable materials from the waste stream. And while recycling, keep reading and asking questions. That way, our views and yours can further enrich our community conversations. We all could learn a thing or two.