If you take a stroll or a run through Montgomery County, keep your eyes to the ground. You’ll notice what people discard without much thought: vape pods, aluminum cans, plastic bottles (some half full of brown spittle), plastic ware and nowadays, masks. Almost everything is “single use.” Easy come, easy go, the saying supposes. What did the world look like before packaging exploded into existence?
Sixty years ago, the U.S. produced about 390 tons of plastics, much of which was not single use. We returned glass bottles, reused, repaired, and what we threw away went to landfills. By 2018, the EPA reports, we generated more than 35,000 tons of plastic. (That doesn’t account for the metal and glass we also use.) Over 26,000 tons of plastic went to landfills and more than 5,600 tons were incinerated (with energy recovery). In short, we created far more plastic to live convenient, takeout lives, and tons of disposable bags, plastic tape and shipping materials, cellophane wrappers, single use storage containers, cosmetic and cleaning containers.
All that packaging gives us an illusion of protection, while tiny particles are entering our bodies. Plastic contains powerful contaminants that interfere with our health. Just one proven way plastic is harmful is how it interferes with male and female reproductive health – reducing sperm counts and increasing miscarriages (Scientific American, March 2021).
Plastic production, especially virgin (non-recycled) plastics, continues to grow because it’s tied up with fossil fuel production. After the fracking boom in the U.S., the extraction process made virgin plastic cheaper and easier to produce than plastic from recycled materials.
That presents a huge challenge for Hoosier communities. Indianapolis does not offer curbside recycling, the Indy Star reported in 2019. Our state recycles only 17 percent of possible materials, including glass and metal. Despite being manufacturing-heavy, our state is missing out by not turning our recyclables into jobs and dollars.
Caring for our health and planet is impossible as individuals. We need government and corporate systems. While companies talk about recycling, they fail in policies that partner with customers in reusing and reducing. Companies can and should reduce single-use, convenience waste. They can welcome customers who bring reusable containers to carry out their coffee and food. They can change packaging to reduce waste. They can base their sales and business on quality, not quantity.
Montgomery County moved toward reduce-reuse-recycle under then-Mayor Phil Michal in the 1990s, with pay-as-you-throw, which amped up recycling. The county partnered with Walden Transport and Recycling to provide recycling drop off for the county, an enviable arrangement for many counties. This year, the county will put drop sites in surrounding small towns, expanding beyond the Wabash Avenue and high school sites. Furthermore, on Jan. 1, Montgomery County established its own solid waste district with several goals: more efficiently gathering waste, reducing our waste stream, educating city and county residents to participate in waste reduction and improving expenditures on waste.
Current Crawfordsville Mayor Todd Barton wants to reduce and better manage what goes into our waste stream, including food waste, recyclables and how we dispose of trash. The county has a waste problem that results in people trying to avoid pay-as-you-throw by bringing trash to the recycling drop sites or stuffing trash in downtown trash containers. Returning to a flat fee for all citizens disincentivizes recycling and composting.
We can compete. Though only about 9 percent of plastics have been recycled since the 1990s, 40 percent of aluminum and 31 percent of glass is recycled according to the EPA. In contrast, Germany leads in recycling with 56 percent. Improvements are within reach.
April is Earth Month, so the League of Women Voters will share practical, researched suggestions on how to recycle better, how to reduce food waste and how to reduce consumption. Meanwhile, two thought-provoking reads are Inconspicuous Consumption by Tatiana Schlossberg and No Impact Man by Colin Beavan.

The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan, multi-issue political organization which encourages informed and active participation in government. For information about the League, visit the website www.lwvmontcoin.org; or, visit the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, Indiana Facebook page.