By Martin Liptrot
The average plastic bag has a working life of just 20 minutes – it ships shopping from the checkout to the kitchen cupboard. Then, with its work done, it spends the next 1000 years slowly decomposing. Very slowly.
Each year, Americans throw away a staggering 100 billion single-use plastic bags. These bags are mainly destined for landfills but often make their way to the Gulf and waterways where they are responsible for the annual death of a million sea birds and 100,000 sea animals including turtles, whales, dolphins and seals.
First, there are ways to recycle on 30A – you just need to know how.
Each year, thousands of visitors ask 30A.com where they can responsibly dispose of their plastic and other waste. While there is no public curbside pickup service like many visitors enjoy at home, Walton County does have landfills open to the public and drop off collection points where certain products and materials can be disposed of responsibly.
Cardboard and Plastics #1 and #2 can be recycled in Walton County, but currently, the county doesn’t accept glass jars or bottles, plastic bags, food packaging such as yogurt pots, egg cartons, microwaveable meal containers, or discarded beach toys like inflatables, boogie boards, and buckets and spades.
EZ PZ Recycling is a private service, which for around $20 per month will pick up all your sorted plastics, paper and glass. This may be a solution progressive rental companies and property management firms would be interested in introducing for our summer visitors with a modest ‘pass-on’ fee.
While recycling is one important way to cut down on waste, another simple solution is to reuse. Rather than throw those plastic bags away, put them in a shopping bag and take then back to the supermarket for your next shop. They won’t last forever but one or two more uses will make a big difference. And if you can’t reuse items yourself, there are plenty of ways you can donate locally to let others enjoy your unwanted products. Haven House and Good Will are two examples of stores that will take donations of your gently used clothes, toys and household items. And foodbanks and many of our local churches will take any unused packaged food items from your vacation to assist those in our community who need a little help.
Look for products that use less packaging. Rather than individually wrapped products look for bulk buy options. A single, 2-liter bottle of soda has about 15 times less packaging than the same quantity of individual portion bottles. Choosing loose fruit and vegetables rather than plastic-wrapped pre-packaged is another way to reduce what goes to landfill. Do you need a straw with every drink? Most people don’t use straws at home so why do we need them on vacation? Same with paper plates, plastic cups and cutlery – convenient yes, but could you opt for reusable products instead?
Many businesses along 30A are also doing their part to help reduce waste and protect our environment. You could support them by buying their products and services. 30A.com has recently introduced a range of t-shirts and hoodies made from a super soft yarn spun from plastic bottles rescued from landfills. Seaside and Rosemary Beach Farmers’ Markets are ways to not only support local growers and artisans but typically offer much less heavily packaged goods and treats, and Blue Mountain Beach’s For The Health Of It sells seasonal produce and organic goods in eco-friendly packages.
Not everything can be recycled or reused, so some items do sadly have to be thrown away. But even then, how we dispose of these items can help our environment. 30A is home to a myriad of wildlife, many who see our leftovers as an enticing treat. Putting garbage in sealed pails and bins rather than leaving the bag outside helps prevent pesky critters spreading and strewing your waste across your yard or neighborhood. And smokers, billions of cigarette butts are left on the world’s beaches each year. Not only is this ugly trash but a danger to seabirds, fish and marine animals. And while a cold beer and snacks are a wonderful way to watch the sunset on the last night of your vacation, please take your bottle tops, empty cans, and containers off the beach when you leave.