Archive for December, 2018

The Inconvenient World Of Convenience

Wednesday, December 19th, 2018

December 17, 2018

The Inconvenient world of convenience


This is a follow up to my post “Plastic Bag Tax” on my website,


I consider myself to be a typical American, used to convenience in almost everything. I buy plastic water bottles rather than carry around a heavier metal insulated container. I buy plastic soft drink bottles, plastic yogurt containers, plastic throw away food containers. Am I a bad person? I will leave that question to my wife and children.


Basically, I consider that I am woefully uninformed about recycling. So, I started digging for information about the whole area of what happens when I throw those bottles, containers and other items into my garbage pail.


I started at my computer to see what information was available. The main points that I discovered was as follows.


  • The use of plastics in packaging has undergone a revolution. These very smart chemical scientists have taken petrochemicals and transformed them into various chemical stocks such as POLYETHYLENE TEREPHTHALATE, HIGH-DENSITY POLYETHYLENE, POLYVINYL CHLORIDE, LOW-DENSITY POLYETHLENE, POLYPROPYLENE, POLYSTYRENE, AND OTHER PLACTICS INCLUDING ACRYLICS, POLYCARBONATE, POLYACTIC FIBERS, NYLON AND FIBERGLAS. OUCH!! No wonder I hated chemistry in school.
  • China used to take most of our recycled products but in January of this year they stopped accepting recyclables from many countries.
  • Locally the City of Memphis is in a time of transformation as are other local municipalities like Germantown. Where recyclables used to pay for itself, it now appears we will have to pay more in the future.


Therefore, my job now is to educate myself as to what is recyclable and what is not and what can I do to help solve or mitigate the problem.  First job is to identify items. The following chart is basic to all the chemicals mentioned above.



I asked the City of Memphis thru an open records request the following.

“I would like information on which of these 7 symbols which appear on a lot of products you will accept for recycling here in Memphis. Also, if you have other suggestions or standards for identification of acceptable products symbols, I would like to have them by email return.”

Here is their answer.

The City has reviewed its files and has located responsive records to your request. Per the custodian, size does matter. Straws, plastic picnic utensils, and pill bottles are too small to be sorted accurately. Also – recycling needs to be clean. If plastic plates have lingering food debris attached, then they can actually contaminate the load. The plastic items we collect must just be all plastic. If they contain metal parts or electronic panels then they are not recyclable. To easily identify plastics we accept, visit or check the top of your City of Memphis gray recycling cart. You will find a complete list of the plastics, paper, metals, glass and cartons you can recycle in Memphis. Thank you for participating in our curbside recycling program. 

This answer seems to address most items I come across in my daily life. The plastic bags that are at checkout at Kroger and some other stores still is the object of a possible charge before the City Council. Under the plan, consumers would pay 7 cents for each plastic bag they use to carry their purchases from Memphis retailers sized 2,000 square feet or greater. The Memphis bag tax proposal would funnel 2 cents to the grocers as a handling fee, while the city would pull in the other 5 cents per bag. People age 65 and older, and those who use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits or other public assistance, would be exempt city councilman Boyd said.


What did I learn? The City is doing the right thing and seems to be on top of the huge problem of our throwaway society. Of the seven chasing arrow symbols it seems that #6 (POLYSTYRENE) is a big problem and cannot currently be recycled without a lot more research. #3 (POLYVINYL CHLORIDE) and #4 (LOW DENSITY POLYETHLENE) are also questionable. I have found that many items do not have the 1 thru 7 symbols. You  have to use some judgement.

There is a lot of research going on in this are and here is an recent article that you might find interesting. Possibly the wonderful world of chemistry will solve this problem.


I would love to hear from you on your experience in this throwaway society.