Community encouraged by recycling changes to cut back on plastic use

With plastic no longer recyclable in the area, a group gathered in Waynesboro on Monday evening to brainstorm change. With “reduce, reuse and refuse” the hope is that community members will cut back on plastic use. 

Representatives from environmental conservation organization Shenandoah Green, Barbara Brothers and Fred Blanton, along with Jennifer Lewis, member of the Headwaters sustainability group, led the conversation. 

“I see this as a fabulous opportunity,” Brothers said. “We’ve been using too much plastic. This is an opportunity to do something to make the world a better place.”

Consumers and businesses need to change their behavioral habits of using plastic, they said. Topics of conversation were communicating with businesses on cutting back plastic, changing personal habits, communicating with elected officials and looking for eco-friendly products to buy. 

“We have a major plastic issue,” Lewis said. “We cannot recycle our way out of our plastic obsession.”

Sonoco Recycling, the area’s only recycling processor, announced last month it will no longer collect plastic or glass for recycling in Waynesboro, Staunton and Augusta County as of March 30. Glass is still collected, but crushed and used as cover material at the Augusta Regional Landfill.

The changes are said to be due to a decline in the market, including international market, for plastic and glass in the last year. Other factors that weaken the recycling demand include: low oil prices make it cheaper to produce new plastic bottles, packaging producers have been able to make cans and bottles thinner, the circulation of print newspaper has plummeted and there is now very little demand for recycled glass.

While they gathered at the Waynesboro Democratic Headquarters, the event was open to everyone regardless of party affiliation. They challenged community members not to let political parties come between working together to reduce plastic.  

Tips given at the event include: replace plastic food containers with glass, shop with reusable bags, keep a water bottle handy, carry a metal straw, use small plates to cover food in the refrigerator, compost and use biodegradable dog waste bags. 

“There was a time when we didn’t have plastic anything,” Blanton said. “It’s not impossible for us to go back to that time.”

All small actions make a big impact, Brothers said.

“It’s just one thing, but the more things we do…” she said. “When you start doing things, it’s amazing how less plastic you have. We can do it.”

The group encouraged community members to reach out to national and local stores, and nicely request they use an alternative to plastic. Their goal is to have each person reach out to five companies. They also encouraged getting the word out on social media and writing letters to the editor. 

“Over time, if all of us go and talk to them, I think they’re going to get it,” Blanton said of reducing plastic use in local businesses.