Chesterton Tribune



VU study finds plastic pollution is pervasive in Porter County

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A study by Valparaiso University environmental chemists has found plastics pollution to be pervasive in Porter County.

The main culprit: Polypropylene, recycling code No. 5, a kind of plastic commonly used in disposable packaging.

Dr. Julie Peller and her research team collected samples alongside roads throughout the Salt Creek Watershed as well as at the Valparaiso compost site, operated by the Recycling and Waste Reduction District of Porter County (RWRD). “The large plastic (macro) was counted and identified by recycling codes or chemical analysis,” according to a statement released by the RWRD. “The microplastics (smaller than 5mm) required further processing, as they were small particulates.” Their finding: although a variety of plastics with recycling codes 1-7 was discovered along the roadways and in the compost, the most common was Polypropylene.

"Plastics are renowned for their versatility and durability owing to their unique synthetic chemical makeup, but the same durable chemical makeup means they do not biodegrade like paper or cloth,” the statement said. “Instead, plastics physically break down into tinier and tinier pieces that persist in the environment for years. These invisible pieces then accumulate in the air, water, and soil, often finding their way into the food chain after being consumed or inhaled by organisms. The long-term health consequences of ingesting microplastics are not well understood.”

For Peller the main implication of her team’s study is that consumers should be mindful of their purchasing choices and try, as much as possible, to avoid disposable plastic packaging.” Disposable plastic packaging is used for drinks, chips, energy bars, to-go foods, and so much more,” she said. “If we think that the incomplete disposal of a few wrappers/cups/lids is not a big deal, multiply those few packages by the thousands of others in a community who also consume packaged foods. Once these plastic materials enter the environment, they fragment into smaller pieces but do not decompose. The accumulated plastic waste has unfortunately become normal for the younger generations, and this pollution problem will only get worse unless our consumption of plastic (especially single-use plastic) changes.”

Ron Taylor, public education coordinator for the RWRD, emphasizes that folks should think beyond just recycling if they hope to have an impact on the amount of plastic pollution in their community. “While recycling is a vital piece of the puzzle in combating plastic pollution, it has limitations. The American recycling industry has been hit hard by recent shifts in the international markets for materials, and recycling programs can only continue to function so long as there are viable markets for the materials Americans put in their bin. This is why we’ve made an effort to emphasize the importance of re-thinking, reducing, and re-using. Re-thinking is about changing our habits as consumers by purchasing less plastic, which reduces what gets manufactured in the first place. Re-usinginvolves finding clever ways to re-purpose plastic items instead of throwing them away after one use. All approaches aim to sharply cut down on the amount of plastic.”

Taylor added that Porter County residents can further help recycling programs by making a concerted effort to recycle properly. “Many people have misconceptions about what can be placed in their curbside bin. Improperly recycled items like plastic bags can damage machinery at sorting facilities. Recyclables that haven’t been properly cleaned can ruin an entire loadof adjacent materials, which then have to be disposed of in a landfill. Both scenarios can cause a serious drain of time and resources from municipal recycling programs.

RWRD maintains a website that can answer many questions about proper recycling. It also hosts an Adopt a County Road program, which allows individuals and groups to adopt a road and assist in cleaning up the plastics and garage found along roadways.

Visit for more information.


Posted 9/1/2020




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