Study Examines Plastic Pollution in Porter County

A new study from Valparaiso University looked at plastic pollution in Porter County. Earlier this year, Dr. Julie Peller and a team of environmental chemistry students collected samples from roads in the Salt Creek Watershed and from the Valparaiso Compost site to measure and categorize plastic waste. Results showed polypropylene, often used in disposable packaging, was the most abundant variety found. Dr. Peller wants consumers to consider how purchasing choices impact how much plastic is thrown away. The Recycling and Waste Reduction District of Porter County encourages citizens to re-think buying habits and find ways to repurpose plastic items.

“Disposable plastic packaging is used for drinks, chips, energy bars, to-go foods, and so much more. If we think that the incomplete disposal of a few wrappers/cups/lids is not a big deal, multiply those few packages by the thousands of others in a community who also consume packaged foods. Once these plastic materials enter the environment, they fragment into smaller pieces, but do not decompose. The accumulated plastic waste has unfortunately become normal for the younger generations, and this pollution problem will only get worse unless our consumption of plastic (especially single use plastic) changes.” said Dr. Peller.

Ron Taylor, Public Education Coordinator for the Recycling and Waste Reduction District of Porter County, emphasizes that citizens should think beyond just recycling if they hope to have an impact on the amount of plastic pollution in their community. “While recycling is a vital piece of the puzzle in combating plastic pollution, it has limitations. The American recycling industry has been hit hard by recent shifts in the international markets for materials, and recycling programs can only continue to function so long as there are viable markets for the materials Americans put in their bin. This is why we’ve made an effort to emphasize the importance of re-thinking, reducing and reusing. Re-thinking is about changing our habits as consumers by purchasing less plastic, which Reduces what gets manufactured in the first place. Reusing involves finding clever ways to repurpose plastic items instead of throwing them away after one use. All approaches aim to sharply cut down on the amount of plastic. “

Taylor added that citizens can further help recycling programs by making a concerted effort to recycle properly. “Many people have misconceptions about what can be placed in their curbside bin. Improperly recycled items like plastic bags can damage machinery at sorting facilities. Recyclables that haven’t been properly cleaned can ruin an entire load of adjacent materials, which then have to be disposed of in a landfill. Both scenarios can cause a serious drain of time and resources from municipal recycling programs.”

The Recycling and Waste Reduction District of Porter County maintains a website that can answer many questions individuals or organizations may have about recycling properly. The district also hosts an Adopt a County Road program. This program allows for groups and individuals to adopt a road and assist in cleaning up the plastics and garbage that are found along the roads. Visit www.portercountyrecycling.org for further information.