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Community Members Work To Decrease Local Plastic Waste

Residents learn how to reuse plastic bags in a previous upcycling event hosted by the library. (Photo courtesy to the Alachua County Library District)
Residents learn how to reuse plastic bags in a previous upcycling event hosted by the library. (Photo courtesy to the Alachua County Library District)

Local groups are encouraging elimination of single-use plastics through community programs, and promoting lifestyle changes in efforts to reduce waste despite the county’s repeal of the plastic bag ban.

Community environmental groups teamed up to educate locals about sustainable choices at the Gainesville Bag It! event Nov. 2. The six-hour event at the Headquarters Branch Alachua County Library was intended to teach residents how to decrease single-use plastic bag waste in the area following Alachua County’s repeal of the plastic ban

The event taught attendees tangible techniques for creating more sustainable lifestyles and featured five community partners, including Zero Waste Gainesville and Keep Alachua County Beautiful, that foster environmentalism in the area. The one-time program was part of ongoing initiatives to encourage residents to adopt lifestyle changes that will increase long term sustainability in the area, said Linda Dean, library specialist and event coordinator.

“I hope to increase awareness of how simple this can be,” Dean said of sustainability. “It’s a mindset change.”

The library collected donated materials, such as old T-shirts and pet food bags to be made into reusable bags at the event, she said. The event also taught attendees how to weave plastic shopping bags together into a sturdier yarn-like material called plarn, which can be used to create reusable bags. Attendees can carry these durable, reusable bags instead of using more single-use bags. 

“It’d be nice if we didn’t use any plastic bags, but we do,” Dean said. “Better to reuse them instead of putting them into landfills or the ocean.” 

Zero Waste Gainesville, a local advocacy group dedicated to raising awareness about simple things people can do to reduce waste, also offered tips on how to live a waste-free lifestyle. 

Nina Bhattacharyya, founder of Zero Waste Gainesville, said the grocery store is a great place to start taking steps toward sustainability. Although many grocery stores offer programs to recycle used plastic bags, she recommended that shoppers bring reusable bags.

“We encourage reusable bags as the first and really the only option,” she said. “Recycling is really a back end option; the primary part is our prevention.”

Bhattacharyya said conscientious shoppers can go a step further and bring reusable bags for their produce to prevent waste, as many produce containers are not recyclable, or shop in the bulk section of stores. 

Lifestyle changes that affect daily habits like these have the potential to make the biggest long-term impact, said Gina Hawkins, executive director of Keep Alachua County Beautiful. 

“I encourage people to look at what they use every day and what they use the most,” she said, “because that’s what can make the biggest impact.”

Conscious choices and open conversations about plastic waste help consumers rethink their day-to-day habits and contribute to sustainability in the community, she said. 

Plastic users also need be careful about proper disposal, she said, as the waste often doesn’t make it to the landfill and instead ends up in public streets and waterways.

Recyclers should ensure they are separating different types of goods carefully and not accidentally including non-recyclable items, said Jeff Klugh, waste recovery manager for the Alachua County’s Solid Waste and Resource Recovery Department. Produce containers, plastic party cups, plastic bags and black plastics are items that are mistakenly placed in recycling bins most often, he said.

If someone is unsure whether to recycle an item, Klugh said, its best to throw away the item because including trash with recyclables is more harmful and costs additional money to sort out. The waste collector will usually leave the bin on the curb if it has excessive contamination. If those bins do get collected, the non-recyclable items will be sorted out at the processing facility and sent to the landfill; however, it costs more to the county and taxpayers, he said.

Citizens can call the department or ask questions on their Facebook page for get help with recycling correctly, Klugh said. While individual lifestyle changes create positive change, Hawkins said the local government still needs to take more action to implement sustainable practices, such as mandatory recycling, despite the repeal of Alachua County’s plastic ban. 

“Sometimes the government needs to help citizens make good decisions for their own health and safety,” she said. “Don’t let an individual’s right to hurt the planet affect my right to a healthy planet.” 

Hanna Gibson is an environmental reporter for WUFT. She can be reached at