Newsflash: new national recycling legislation is being proposed to snap you out of your chair and the mid-winter blahs.

I’m sure most of you can think of better things to read than recycling legislation, but this is exciting stuff if you are a passionate recycler or have a grudge against plastic pollution. The newly proposed legislation is called “Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act.” It’s being proposed by two Democrats, but chances are good Independents and Republicans use plenty of plastics at home and work, and hopefully this bill has support on both sides.

Current studies suggest that we Americans consume a credit card's worth of plastic each month. Exposure to plastic toxins has been linked to cancer, birth defects and other problems. Each year, over 300,000 tons of plastic becomes litter in our cities, parking lots, trees and playgrounds — pretty much wherever the wind can carry your plastic grocery bag. About 8 million tons ends up in our oceans and rivers. Global plastic production is currently at 335 million tons and is expected to triple by 2050.

So now is a good time to establish some manufacturing, use, reuse and recycling rules to manage this material. Plastic is very important in our daily lives, as we can’t build everything out of cement, wood or metal, but we need to raise the bar on the manufacturing, reclamation and reuse processes, as the disposal and recycling costs tend to fall on the shoulders of state and county governments.

This bill is proposing more manufacturer’s responsibility by requiring standardization of certain plastic products and financing end of life scenarios, either recycling programs or proper disposal of their plastic products.

In my last article, I proposed sending our Amazon boxes and packing materials back to Amazon for reuse and having them pay shipping. This would be one example of shifting the recycling and reuse costs back to the company. This new bill would also create a nationwide beverage container refund program. It also calls for a ban and reduction of single use plastic products. Google "Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act" to find out more information.

Currently, we recycling managers get a lot of static from folks about changing the rules of recycling all the time, this leads to confusion and folks giving up on the system. I totally understand that, which is why we try to educate folks getting back to the basics of recycling or say, “When in doubt, throw it out."

Like everything else in life, recycling rules will change over time, and we will do our best to keep folks up to speed on the changes. Here is just one example of the current lack of standardization or confusion. Look at your to go coffee cup — is it plastic, wax, paper, foam or foil lined? Depending on where you work or the community that you operate in, the disposal or recycling answer varies greatly. Some will tell you the cup is paper and should be composted — no, maybe recycled — yeah, that’s it — no, it has a wax coating, forget it — oh, it has a recycle symbol on it, though; must be recyclable? — no, wait, I think it’s foam; it’s garbage.

So that little cup can make our recycling lives difficult and could use some manufacturing standardization along with your cream and sugar … or maybe just grab a plastic bottle of Mountain Dew instead.

Currently you can find some answers at the Tri-County Solid Waste website, Facebook page, the Nicollet County Waste wizard site and other local county websites. We ask that our residents contact us with your questions as well as your feedback on our current programs and services offered.

Just a few things before I go. We have a $5 coupon out there that you can use to dispose of your computer, any appliance or any size TV; this has been a very popular program and it will expire at the end of February. Also, if you have household hazardous waste to dispose of, Nicollet and Le Sueur County residents can call Blue Earth County to make an appointment at 507-304-4384. Sibley County residents can bring materials to McLeod and Scott Counties, and Le Sueur County folks can go to Scott County with hazardous waste. Lastly, look for our spring cleanup collections dates; they will be posted on our county websites this week.

Al Christensen is the Tri-County Solid Waste director, serving Nicollet, Le Sueur and Sibley counties. Reach him at al.christensen@co.nicollet.mn.us.

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