Dear Dot: What to do about all our damn packaging?



Dear Dot,

Is there any service on the island for recycling soft plastics? We get a lot of packages in the mail, and it would be an excellent thing to have somewhere to process all the bubble wrap etc.

Verena, via email

Hi Verena, 

I once cut my thumb almost to the bone trying to extricate a USB key, smaller than a stick of chewing gum, from packaging the size of an album cover. There was cardboard, there was hard plastic, and, within all this, was a USB key. By the time the scissors slipped, the blood ran, and the curses rang out, I was ready to send all the packaging right back to the idiots who’d created it. “You get rid of this!” I imagined screaming across the Internet. “Responsibly!”

We could all use a little Whoville post-Grinch Christmas right now, couldn’t we? “It came without ribbons, it came without tags. It came without packages, boxes, or bags.” Rather, our stuff comes surrounded by, well, more stuff. It’s like Russian nesting dolls of plastic inside of more plastic. And, for some bizarre reason, the onus to get rid of it falls on us — and our various levels of government — rather than the industry that created it. Brilliant on their part, if a bit diabolical.

I completely understand your desire to find somewhere to recycle all that wrapping. But, while recycling has somehow become the breakout star of our 3rs, it’s actually our last resort after reduce and reuse. With COVID, so many of us became online shoppers.  But the Plastic Free MV kids, who told us via Ben Robinson, would love it if all of us cut back (wayyyyy back) on our online purchases altogether. Robinson suggests that there are actually 4 Rs and the first and most important is refuse. 

Returning to in-person shopping will go a long way toward reducing the plastic that finds its way into our homes. As a bonus, we’ll be putting money into our neighbors’ pockets, which also puts money into our local services via taxes. And we’ll eliminate the need to find a place to recycle it (which, incidentally, we at Bluedot tried to do, with no success). 

If we must shop online, aim to support online businesses that don’t use plastic packaging at all, in favor of that which is compostable or more easily recycled. 

But what to do with all that has accumulated? Ask around — our favorite local shop owners might be able to reuse our bubble wrap for off-Island orders from online customers. Our pet-owning friends might appreciate any extra plastic bags for reuse as poop bags. 

Ultimately, however, Robinson and the Plastic Free MV kids leave us with this: “Any recycling is only temporary, eventually all plastic becomes waste at some point, and soft plastic recycling is hard to accomplish and hard to collect. It may be best to accept that it is trash if no place exists to either reuse or recycle.”

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