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Letters to the Editor

Letter: The plastic dilemma – the good, the bad and the environment

To the Editor:

Have you noticed that plastic is everywhere? Plastics are entrenched into every aspect of our lives. They can be found in the nylon of our clothes, the bottles in our medicine cabinet, the packaging of our food and even the carpet in our homes. Plastic has enhanced our lives in countless ways. This has led us to use vast quantities of this versatile material. But where does plastic come from, and what happens when we are done with it?

Plastic is most commonly made from petroleum, the same raw material as gasoline. However, there is research being conducted to reduce our dependence on petroleum by using alternative sources for manufacturing plastics, often called bioplastics.

The plastics we use have many different properties because of variations in their chemical makeup. There are seven variations that are recyclable and designated by the number inside of the recycle symbol on the item. We are fortunate that the Kane County Recycles program is able to recycle all numbers except for No. 6, polystyrene. Polystyrene is mainly found in styrofoam, but also in other common items, such as Solo cups. If there is no number/symbol, the material is likely non-recyclable. 

Because most plastic is recyclable, we do not often stop to think just how much we use. When people think of the recycling, they often think that plastic and aluminum can be recycled the same way, but that is not true. 

Materials like aluminum and glass are melted down and turned into new items retaining the same properties as the originals. In contrast, plastic recycling is much more limited with our current technology. Plastics do not retain their properties when melted and reshaped. Instead, they must be turned into something that does not require the same properties or must be combined with new material to maintain the properties.

The best way to help the environment is to reduce the amount of throw-away plastic that we use on a regular basis – for instance, using reusable containers instead of disposable plastic bags, using reusable bags at the grocery store, and using a filtering pitcher instead of individual bottles, etc. We can also make a difference by making sure we recycle the plastics that are recyclable because every bit helps. 

To learn more about your town and Kane County recycling countyofkane.org/recycling. 

Heather Bryant

Master's student and St. Charles East High School science teacher

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