Last year China, the biggest importer of plastic waste, stopped buying most recycled waste, sending the U.S. recycling industry into turmoil. Before the ban China took in 45 percent of the world’s plastic waste imports for recycling.

Most people in Princeton make an effort to put plastic bottles and other items into recycling bins. But in the past three months many plastic recyclables have been loaded on to trucks, and taken to landfills. This new reality especially threatens communities who live near dumping sites. The rest is being sent to Southeast Asian countries that do not have the infrastructure to manage the waste, contributing to the vast amount of plastic in our oceans.

GDB International, a recycling and sustainability company based in New Brunswick, is retooling from exporting to China to making each community responsible for the plastic waste it produces.

Plastic can be recycled only a limited number of times and is difficult to recycle. Each variety of plastic requires a different recycling process, and plastics are made from thousands of different formulas. Even the seven most common types of plastic used in consumer manufacturing — stamped on the bottom with a number inside a triangle — have a variety of resin composition, color, transparency, weight, shape, and size that complicates and often prevents recycling.

Plastic films and bags further complicate recycling centers’ efforts as they wrap around the rotating shafts that help separate paper from cans and bottles.

In my lifetime single-use plastic bags, invented in 1965 and introduced into grocery stores in the 1980s, have become ubiquitous. According to the Wall Street Journal, 100 billion plastic bags pass through the hands of U.S. consumers every year with only 1 to 5 percent being recycled.

I personally spent about eight hours this past January picking up at least eight barrels of garbage along the trails of Mountain Lakes Preserve with approximately a third of the volume being plastic. Part of the solution must be a reduction in use and production of plastic. Several towns have already taken action including Avalon, Beach Haven, Brigantine, Harvey Cedars, Lambertville, Long Beach, Longport, Somers Point, Stafford, Stone Harbor, and Ventnor.

New Jersey seems poised to implement policy to move our entire state in the right direction. Bills S-2776 and A-4330 introduced in June, 2018, would ban stores from handing out single-use plastic shopping bags, plastic drinking straws, and polystyrene food containers. The bill would also create a 10 cent fee on single-use paper bags, which would finance a new “Plastic Pollution Prevention Fund.”

The Princeton Environmental Commission passed a resolution in September, 2018, urging Governor Murphy and the legislature to ban single use plastic bags and promote reusable bags.

I urge you to sign the petition of support for this comprehensive bill at http://bit.ly/pvanjec and call your representative to let them know you support this bill.

— Heidi Fichtenbaum, Princeton

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