Sunday, April 14, 2024

How can we kick our plastic habit? Readers weigh in

Good morning. It’s Tuesday, Feb. 20. Here’s what you need to know to start your day.

Recycling is more complicated than it needs to be. Readers shared tips and complaints.

Plastic bags are ubiquitous. They fill our landfills and oceans (and pretty much everywhere else, too). A 2014 law aimed at curbing them simply led to switching out one form of plastic for another. Few people actually reuse the thicker “reusable” plastic bags that businesses now sell for 10 cents. In fact, Californians are throwing away more plastic pound-for-pound than they were before the law took effect.

“It’s not a bad deal for the stores,” The Times’ Jessica Roy explained last year. “It’s also not a tax; taxes are paid to the government. Stores buy bags for about five cents each, and sell them for at least double that, pocketing the profits.”

A recent report by the consumer advocacy group CALPIRG found the tonnage of discarded bags rose from 4.08 per 1,000 people in 2014 to 5.89 per 1,000 people in 2022.

As my colleague Susanne Rust reported earlier this month, there are legislative efforts underway to close the loophole that’s created more plastic in bag form.

It’s not just bags, though. Single-use plastic is part of many (or most!) products we buy in stores or that arrive via delivery. According to CalRecycle, packaging waste accounts for more than 50% of what gets dumped in state landfills by volume.

“Part of the issue has to do with the promises that product manufacturers made about recycling, and the hard realities of plastic collection and reuse,” Susanne noted in her recent coverage. “In 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that just 8.7% of all plastics were actually recycled.”

A 2022 law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom mandates that we improve recycling rates and requires plastic manufacturers to make all packaging in the state recyclable or compostable by 2032.

On the few occasions I have forgotten my reusable bags when grocery shopping, I go through a calculated attempt to see what I can carry in my hands and pockets, or else take everything unbagged to my car.

My motivation: doing whatever I can to avoid bringing one more piece of plastic into my home.

I’m not the only one fighting (and sometimes losing) a war on plastic. When I asked readers last week how you view our increasingly plastic-filled world and what steps you take (if any) to recycle, reuse or reduce, hundreds of you responded to our survey, sharing your habits, your struggles and what you think can be done better to kick our plastic habit.

Readers shared practical tips for reducing your plastic footprint

  • “School lunches, leftover containers, and party utensils and plates are all metal, glass, or fabric wraps.” — Laura S., Los Angeles
  • “ We use compostable bags for much of our produce purchases. I won’t purchase lettuce and other greens in those huge plastic containers.” — Deborah O., Berkeley
  • “I stopped buying single-use water bottles and use a metal, refillable water bottle or buy water bottled only in glass bottles. I try to refuse the plasticware when ordering pickup. I’ve also used single-use forks, spoons, and knives made of bamboo when hosting larger groups. I use powdered clothes detergent that comes in a cardboard box to avoid bulky plastic liquid detergent containers.” — Kevin G., Long Beach
  • “I keep cloth bags in my car and one in my purse. I have also purchased reusable bags for produce.“ — Melissa D., San Diego
  • “Buy in bulk when possible. Use glass storage containers for food. Don’t buy takeout — cook for yourself. Learn the tricks to plan ahead for easy meals. Cook once and use the leftovers. It takes conscious effort. Sometimes my children laugh at my reused Ziploc bags, but I just remind them I’m trying to leave the world in better condition for their children.” — Mary-Frances F., West Covina

Readers shared the challenges that come with improving our collective recycling game

  • “I know many of us ‘wishcycle,’ thinking more things are recyclable than they are.” — Suan L., Los Angeles
  • “[I was] fairly adept at recycling all plastics until I found out that about 95% of recycled plastics get shunted to landfills, since no one anywhere on the globe will take our trash any longer and the domestic market for recycled plastics is pathetic.” — Rex C., San Luis Obispo
  • “[Some of my] friends and my adult children tend to hassle me when I pick up a plastic bottle in a parking lot.”— Nora Q., Claremont
  • “Shifting habits has to be something someone wants to do. When I constantly read about doomy climate change, I feel badly for folks who see that and feel powerless. We have to feel we have agency in order to change our behavior.” — Heather S., Goleta

Readers shared what, beyond individual actions, they’d like to see to help curb plastic waste

  • “Actually pass some laws that are meaningful and impactful. No more greenwashing should be allowed for corporations.” — Pamela P., Los Angeles
  • “Stop blaming the consumer for not doing a good job recycling plastic waste, when it is up to the manufacturers to not create it in the first place.” — Marcia G., Joshua Tree
  • “I would like to see a surcharge placed on goods bought online that reflects the packaging waste and product returns prevalent with online purchases.” — Michael A., Los Angeles
  • “Bring back paper bags, it’s that simple!” — Ken D., San Diego

Today’s top stories

A pedestrian enjoys a break in the rain at Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro

(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

Another atmospheric river is dousing California

A clinic sues over pulse oximeter readings

New contract for CSU faculty


More big stories

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Today’s great reads

Carol Chappell sits inside a multi dimensional healing chamber enhanced by tensor rings at the Conscious Life Expo.

(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

‘It’s a lot of UFO stuff and a lot of healing’: Inside L.A.’s wackiest spiritual convention. This convention is ground zero for fringe beliefs and crunchy trends.

Other great reads

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For your downtime

The French onion soup from Le Champ in the Downtown L.A. Arts District.

Going out

Staying in

And finally … a great photo

Show us your favorite place in California! Send us photos you have taken of spots in California that are special — natural or human-made — and tell us why they’re important to you.

America Ferrera in the LA Times Portrait Studio

(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

Today’s great photo is from staff photographer Jason Armond of America Ferrera. Many of your favorite stars joined Armond in the L.A. Times portrait studio Saturday, the night of the People’s Choice Awards. You can see them all here.

Have a great day, from the Essential California team

Ryan Fonseca, reporter
Karim Doumar, head of newsletters

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